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Chamber fights silent bias against military spouses

MARYSVILLE Local businesses are working to provide good, family-wage jobs for military spouses and fight a silent bias against them. The Greater Marysville-Tulalip Chamber of Commerce developed the Military Family Friendly Employment Partnership Initiative this summer and unveiled more details of that initiative at their monthly meeting this last week. Members were proud that the initiative has spread nearly countywide. The spark was a military spouse with a sterling resume and college degree who was repeatedly spurned by employers when she went job hunting.
U.S. Navy Capt. Thomas Mascolo said that unfortunately the story is hardly unique, a point on which other speakers gave him considerable support.
The problem, according to Mascolo and others, is that employers shy away from hiring the family members of military personnel as those personnel often find themselves reassigned. Employers dont want to go through the time and expense of training someone, only to lose that employee when that persons family has to move.
Its a silent bias we do not want to have happen here in Snohomish County, said Melissa West of Carlson Wagonlit Travel. West chairs the chambers military affairs committee.
A military wife herself, West said she moved nine times over the years as her husband went from one duty station to another. A college graduate, at one point, she ended up digging holes for swimming pools and spas, the only type of employment she could find.
On another occasion, West said a potential employer asked if her husband was part of the Air Force testing squad based nearby. When she answered in the affirmative, the employer said he wouldnt hire her because when her husband was killed, she probably would move.
West noted her husband is now retired. Thats the only reason she feels free to speak about the problems she encountered. Most military families wont talk about their situations, West and others said, out of fear of hurting the career of their military family member. While federal law protects the civilian jobs of reservists and other military called up for active duty, there is no law addressing the prejudice experienced by military family members.
Chamber President Caldie Rogers said the initiative proceeded in several steps. The first was to come up with a template resolution local communities can pass, asking employers to be open to hiring the members of military families. Officials said about 13 Snohomish County cities already have signed on.
Another important step in the program is to sign up businesses willing to hire persons from military families. Once businesses register, they can promote themselves as military family friendly, earning decals they put in their windows or on their Web sites. Mascolo noted the move is a good one from a business point of view, likely to attract the dollars of military families.
Companies that join the initiative also can mount, for virtually free, nationwide searches for potential employees thanks to listings on military Websites around the country.
Mayor Dennis Kendall and others noted Snohomish County was a pretty logical place for the initiative to take root. There are several military bases in the area. Kendall guessed about one in five Marysville residents have some tie to the Navy.
Rogers emphasized businesses signing up dont necessarily have to be in hiring mode. There will be a yearly registration process, as she wants the initiative to be an ongoing enterprise, not a one-shot deal. Anyone with interest in the program can visit the chamber Web site at www.marysvilletulalipchamber.com.

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