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Cities Pitch In Extended Pay for Their Reservists

Ventura County

Military: Municipal leaders go beyond state requirements to ensure families of employees called to active duty don't suffer.

October 29, 2001|MARGARET TALEV and TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

With military reservists being called away on what could be months-long duty, Ventura County's larger cities have begun extending salary and benefits packages for reservists on their payrolls.

State law requires a month's salary be extended to public employees on military leave. But by all indications, the military operation in Afghanistan will require commitments well beyond 30 days.

In the private sector, reservists are finding a mixed bag, with some employers promising months' worth of help while others offer little in the way of a safety net.

But with patriotism high, many elected officials--particularly in cities with strong tax bases--would rather spend public money to subsidize these workers than jeopardize the finances of their spouses and children after the paychecks run dry.

"The main goal is to make sure no one is hurt by this," said Camarillo Mayor Mike Morgan. The City Council will consider a plan next month to pay up to $1,000 a month for up to six months on top of the reservists' military compensation.

Since the Persian Gulf War a decade ago, Simi Valley's policy has been to cover the difference between its workers' reserve pay and their city salaries for as long as they are called to duty. In the current conflict, one city employee has been called through April, another through next October. The City Council recently expanded its policy to allow reservists' vacation time to build up as well while they are gone.

Ventura and Thousand Oaks have agreed to cover any difference in pay and benefits for up to six months for government employees. Ventura officials predict the plan will cost $100,000 if all six of its employees in the reserves are called to serve.

Oxnard to Consider Policy for Employees

"There is a sense that this is the right thing to do," said Linda Kegerreis, Ventura's human resources director. "There is an economic hardship when they are called up to provide service for all of us."

Oxnard will consider a similar policy this week. County government's 100 reservists could draw their salary differential for up to two months, and health benefits for six months.

The county's smaller cities--Ojai, Moorpark, Port Hueneme, Fillmore and Santa Paula--have no provisions beyond the state's 30-day minimum, officials in those cities said.

In the private sector, Procter & Gamble Paper Products in Oxnard and Technicolor Video Services in Camarillo will pay employees called to duty the difference between their military pay and their regular salaries for up to six months.

That policy was put in place during the Gulf War, said Procter & Gamble spokesman Stacy Roscoe. Twelve of the company's 600 local employees are reservists, but only one has been called to duty so far.

Thousand-Oaks based Amgen, the county's largest private employer, has yet to formalize a plan to cover reservists, only one of whom has been called to serve. Spokesman David Kaye said the company is "trying to figure out an appropriate plan to keep that employee whole" financially.

Some Families See Income Halved

Other companies, including many small businesses, are offering little protection.

Socorro Sanford of Oxnard said she doesn't know how she'll make ends meet while her husband, Robert, a civilian aircraft mechanic in the Air National Guard, is gone.

She said her husband's employer offered 10 days of supplemental pay and has dropped the family's insurance plan. "I don't even know how I'm going to pay my rent," she said.

Reservists called to duty are paid a salary and housing benefits by the federal government. But that can fall short of what they bring home each month from their regular jobs, particularly for managers or white-collar workers.

Compensation for reservists on active duty ranges, from about $2,100 per month to $4,100 before taxes, depending on rank, recruiters said. A Ventura-based corporal in the Army reserve with a spouse and children would command about $2,500 a month, including housing benefits.

In Robert Sanford's case, his annual compensation through the reserves would be about $30,000, compared with his $60,000 salary as a mechanic, his wife said.

And while the military provides health benefits for the family, the coverage is not as good as the Sanfords' former health insurance plan. Meanwhile, the first check from the government has yet to arrive, and the Sanfords' cash reserves are low.

"I've been charging groceries, which I don't want to do because now I'll have to pay interest on the groceries," Socorro Sanford said. "We'll just eat bologna sandwiches now. Our focus on Christmas this year is the kids only, and a little less for them."

Oxnard City Clerk Daniel Martinez, 43, an Air National Guard member, is glad his city is considering expanded coverage. At the same time, Martinez said he knew when he signed up that he was risking financial as well as physical injury.

"It's part of the risk you take," he said. "You are not out there just for a weekend."

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