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Give US veterans a fair chance

Posted: Sunday, September 06, 2009

Labor Day is more than the last three-day weekend signaling the end of summer, it's how we acknowledge a very special group of people - American workers.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the organized Central Labor Union originally founded the holiday in 1882 in New York City, by proposing a Labor Day committee "to plan a demonstration and picnic." It grew out of a celebration and parade in honor of the working class by the Knights of Labor.

Although New York State proposed a bill to recognize Labor Day as a state holiday, Oregon passed the first law. Other states followed suit in the next 12 years, and on June 28, 1894, the U.S. Congress made the first Monday in September a national holiday for all workers.

A workforce that is often overlooked is the men and women of our military services. The largest single employer in our country is Uncle Sam. Since 1775, millions of Americans have served our country in all branches of the military.

Two other federal holidays recognize the members of our military - Memorial Day in late May for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and Veterans' Day on Nov. 11 for all who have served to protect our freedom and democracy.

But on Monday, take the time to thank any of the thousands of service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or from duty in many other parts of the globe including stateside assignments - as well as our veterans - and their families.

Through our Alaska Job Center network, employment specialists are able to connect over 2,000 veterans to jobs each year. There are approximately 70,000 veterans in Alaska and more than 13,000 are registered job seekers in the state's labor exchange system. A veterans' representative in each job center can work with veterans and transitioning service members to help them land good jobs. Veterans generally have no attendance issues, are self-disciplined, drug-tested, physically fit, and possess academic and technical education along with commensurate work experiences. They are used to working in teams, have leadership experience, can follow complex instructions and are proficient in the world's latest technology.

As employers, we need to expand our "Welcome Home" a little further and look more closely at the whole person when it comes time to hiring and what a candidate can bring to the job.

In a 1903 Fourth of July speech to veterans in Springfield, Ill., Theodore Roosevelt said "A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. More than that no man is entitled, and less than that no man shall have."

Please give veterans a fair chance, let them compete and prove themselves.

• Juneau resident Tom Nelson is director of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development's Employment Security Division and a U.S. Army Veteran.

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