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Blumenthal & Franken Call for Swift Passage of Legislation to Protect Basic Employment Rights for Service Members and Veterans

The Senators were joined at a press conference today by Lieutenant Kevin Ziober, a Navy Reservist who was fired the day before he deployed

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) were joined today by members of the Military Officers Association of America, the Reserve Officers Association, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Commissioned Officers of the U.S. Public Health Service at a press conference to call for passage of their legislation to protect servicemembers and veterans against employment discrimination and forced arbitration agreements.

The Justice for Servicemembers Act is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) in the Senate and U.S. Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI), Walter Jones (R-NC), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) in the House of Representatives. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation was considered by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs at hearing on veterans health and benefits legislation this afternoon.

“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.”

“After risking everything for our country, our servicemembers 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.”

Video of today’s press conference is available here.

Photos of today’s press conference are available here.

Blumenthal and Franken were also joined at today’s press conference by Lieutenant Kevin Ziober, a combat veteran and Navy Reservist who served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014. The day before that deployment, Ziober’s employer fired him and told him that his job would not be available upon his return from Afghanistan. Ziober’s employer later prevented him from enforcing his rights by invoking an arbitration agreement that Ziober was forced to sign as a condition of employment.

“Several years ago, I lost a job that I loved because I chose to serve my country,” Kevin said. “Sadly, my story is not unique. Each year, thousands of reservists lose their jobs or miss out on benefits because employers are not aware of USERRA or find our military service to be inconvenient.”

Video of Kevin sharing his experience in testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is available here.

“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.”

“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.”

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 Justice for Servicemembers Act seeking to clarify the law is supported by 32 Veterans Service Organizations, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America, the Reserve Officers Association, and the National Guard Association of the United States.

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 Justice for Servicemembers Act 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.