Blumenthal & Cicilline Lead Fight to Protect Basic Employment Rights for Service Members and Veterans

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced bicameral, bipartisan legislation to ensure that servicemembers’ and veterans’ employment and reemployment rights are effectively enforced under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The Justice for Servicemembers Act is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) in the Senate and U.S. Representatives Joe Wilson (R-SC), Walter Jones (R-NC), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) in the House of Representatives.

“After fighting for our freedom overseas, no service member or veteran should have to fight for their job when they come home,” Blumenthal said. “And they certainly shouldn’t be denied their right to their day in court if their federal rights are violated. The right to seek remedies through the court system for being unjustly fired or exploited is absolutely fundamental. It is unconscionable that as a result of a misinterpretation in the law, our nation’s service members and veterans are excluded from this basic protection.”

“All of us are fortunate to live in a free and safe society thanks to the incredible service and enormous sacrifices of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces,” said Cicilline. “No person who has served our country in uniform should ever struggle because it was more profitable for an employer to fire them while they were on active duty halfway around the world. The bipartisan Justice for Servicemembers Act will ensure that every member of the Armed Forces has the right to go to court and not to mandatory arbitration. I’m grateful that members of both parties are supporting this commonsense proposal to do right by our veterans.”

Under a misinterpretation of current law, service members and veterans are excluded from protections that would allow them to seek redress in court for employment discrimination. The legislation introduced today to clarify the law is supported by twelve Veterans Service Organizations, including the Military Officers Association of America, the Reserve Officers Association, and the National Guard Association of the United States.

“No one should be forced into a shadow justice system that consistently favors big corporations and other repeat players—a system that operates without transparency or clear precedent.  Instead, Americans need and deserve meaningful legal recourse to resolve disputes,” Leahy said.  “Senators should support this legislation to ensure that veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve can have their rights protected, and their day in court.”

“After risking everything for our country, our servicemembers and veterans deserve to return home and pick up where they left off,” said Franken. “Unfortunately, far too many corporations and employers are taking advantage of our family and friends in the military by blocking their constitutional right to access the courts. This legislation is an important step to ensuring the rights of the men and women who honorably serve our country.”

“We owe our nation’s servicemen and women a great debt of gratitude, and that includes the promise that upon their return to civilian life, they can return to work and provide for their families. It is unacceptable that members of our Armed Forces come back from military service only to find they have lost their jobs,” said Durbin. “This bipartisan effort would strengthen existing protections and ensure our veterans and servicemembers have the right to take their employers to court when this promise is broken.”

“Our service men and women put their lives on the line for their country and shouldn’t be punished by civilian employers for doing so,” Jones said. “I am honored to do all I can to help those who’ve worn the uniform.”

“Our servicemembers should not have to worry about losing their job at home while they put their lives on the line for our country.  Yet too many employers have tried to skirt around the law by requiring workers to sign away their rights to employment protection with an arbitration agreement. The Justice for Servicemembers Act will reinforce the rights granted to our servicemembers under USERRA and ensure that they can focus on their mission and get home safely, while on active duty or deployed,” said Gabbard, a Member of the Armed Services Committee and co-chair of the Congressional Post 9/11 Veterans Caucus.

“Our brave military men and women and their families make tremendous sacrifices in service to this country. They shouldn't have to sacrifice their financial stability – which is why they have the right not to lose their jobs while deployed,” Walorski said. “This bill closes a loophole to better protect servicemembers, including those in the Reserves and National Guard, by ensuring their rights to return to work after they’ve served our country.”

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) guarantees veterans and servicemembers, including members of the Reserves and the National Guard, the right to be free of discrimination based on their military service and the right to return to their civilian jobs after serving in the military. The legislation includes important protections for veterans and servicemembers returning to the civilian, and voids any employment agreement that limits or eliminates these rights.

USERRA includes critical enforcement rights, including the right to bring a USERRA claim to court, and the right to receive enforcement assistance from the Department of Labor. Unfortunately, as the result of a misinterpretation of language in the original law, employers are requiring workers to sign arbitration agreements that effectively eliminate the complimentary procedural rights afforded by USERRA.

The bipartisan, bicameral bill introduced today would clarify Congress’ original intent to protect veterans and service members by providing them with both procedural and substantive rights. This would strengthen USERRA and promote access to justice by allowing those aggrieved to exercise their right to have their claims heard in court.

“I applaud Senator Blumenthal and Congressman Cicilline for introducing this vitally important legislation to restore the longstanding reemployment rights of veterans who have honorably served in the Armed Forces.  I am hopeful that bipartisan leaders in Congress will come together to pass this legislation,” said Lieutenant Kevin Ziober, a Navy reservist who served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014As reported last month in the New York Times, The day before that deployment, Ziober’s employer, BLB Resources, Inc., a federal contractor, wrongfully terminated Ziober and later prevented Ziober from enforcing his rights by invoking an arbitration agreement that Ziober was forced to sign as a condition of employment.  

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