By Randy Voepel
Although serving in the military is unlike any job in civilian life, it provides and utilizes skills beneficial to any public or private employer. Military service requires extreme discipline, involves uniquely stressful situations, and demands significant sacrifices, ranging from time away from family to risk of life.
Many employers understand this and believe that the experience of serving as a veteran helps shape a model employee. Veteran status is a clear and direct identifier of someone who understands what it means to show up, listen, and complete a mission.
Prospective employers would welcome the possibility of crafting a policy that would even provide an explicit preference to hire veterans.
Unfortunately, due to California’s outdated law, an employer is only allowed to craft such a policy for a veteran who served during the Vietnam era.
That means they’re unable to have a preference for the hundreds of thousands of veterans who served our country in conflicts such as the first Gulf War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the other conflicts that have occurred around the globe since the Vietnam War ended.
It’s time we update this law.
That’s why I’ve introduced the Veterans Employment Parity Act (AB 353), which would update this law to allow employers to set a policy that allows preference in hiring to veterans, regardless of when they served.
This legislation is important for multiple reasons.
First, it explicitly states that an employer crafting a veterans’ preference policy cannot do so in order to circumvent provisions protecting against hiring discrimination based on race, religious creed, color, sex, or other protected classes.
Second, the demographics of the veteran population have changed substantially since the Vietnam War ended. Since 1973, when our nation reverted to an all-volunteer force, the proportion of women serving has increased seven-fold. Meanwhile, the share of minorities has also increased significantly.
As the country has changed demographically and culturally, so has the composition of our veteran workforce. It’s important we update the law to reflect this reality.
Third, according to the most recent figures from the State of California, the unemployment rate for veterans is above the overall unemployment rate. This is especially true for female veterans, who are unemployed at a rate of 6.9 percent compared to 5.4 percent for the rest of the population.
Finally, this is a law that other states have been adopting, working steadily toward a de facto national standard.
In fact, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have veterans’ preference policies when it comes to hiring for public positions.
When it comes to private positions, several dozen states have veterans’ preference policies. This sample ranges from the politically conservative Utah, to progressive Massachusetts, to moderate Virginia. It’s a concept that states are adopting with open arms, regardless of their partisan alignment or makeup.
It’s important that California live up to its claimed reputation as a leader for the nation and update our veterans preference law. It’s a win for veterans. It’s a win for employers. It’s a win for California.
Most importantly, is that we owe it to those who have served abroad to ensure they have a career at home.
Assemblymember Randy Voepel represents the 71st Assembly District, which includes eastern San Diego County and southern portion of Riverside County. He is a Navy veteran from the Vietnam era and the former mayor of Santee.