WASHINGTON – Union Pacific is a company that is proud of its strong ties with the military. Hundreds of thousands of Civil War veterans helped build the first transcontinental railroad in the 1860s, which was considered vital to national defense. During World War I and II, the railroad canteen in North Platte, Neb., was a resting place for many troops on their way overseas.
Union Pacific’s partnership with the military continues today and, in some respects, is stronger than ever, said Roy Schroer, assistant vice president of human resources. Of the company’s more than 50,000 employees, more than 7,300 serve or have served in the military, and 530 have been deployed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And Union Pacific has always worked hard to take care of its employees who serve in the National Guard or reserves and have to balance training and deployments with civilian life, he said.
Union Pacific’s support efforts for military employees range all the way from company policy for things like pay and benefits down to fellow employee support, like care packages, Schroer said. For its efforts, Union Pacific is being awarded the 2008 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which recognizes employers who go above and beyond in supporting employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.
Union Pacific has a long-standing policy, which goes back to before 9/11, to offer differential pay for National Guard and reserve employees during deployments and activations. The company also continues all medical, dental and life coverage for deployed employees and families, and each of these employees is assigned a care coordinator who assists with benefits and family needs during the deployment.
In addition to these benefits, Union Pacific does a lot of “personal touch” things for deployed employees, Schroer said. The company writes about deployed employees in newspaper articles and companywide publications, sends care packages and cards, and helps families with things like home repairs.
It is this support during deployments that motivated Jesse Swanger to nominate Union Pacific for the Freedom Award. When Swanger, a specialist in the Iowa National Guard, was deployed to Iraq, about five other Union Pacific employees were in his company. The employees got to talking, he said, and realized how much Union Pacific had supported all of them during their deployments. “They made leaving and coming back as easy as possible,” Swanger said.
Swanger has worked for Union Pacific for two years and said he enjoys his job because of the people he works with. “They are a great group of people,” he said.
Union Pacific also has a unique program that is addressing what has been a major problem in the war on terrorism: post-traumatic stress disorder. Company officials recognized what a big problem PTSD was and that early diagnosis and treatment are very important to veterans’ long-term health, Schroer said. In the interest of making the transition of employees returning from deployments back to the workplace as smooth as possible, Union Pacific established a program to help identify and promptly treat PTSD.
Addressing PTSD is important not only for the employees’ health, but also for the well-being of the entire company, Schroer said. “Many of these people just need some assistance and understanding on our part so that they can move back into normal physical and mental capabilities and work safely,” he said. “We need everyone to feel confident in everyone else’s abilities to focus on their tasks and be safe.”
Supporting the military is part of Union Pacific’s culture and heritage and is something that the entire company gets involved with, Schroer said. Thousands of employees turn out to sign Christmas cards or contribute to care packages for deployed employees, he said. “It’s a great morale sustainer across the entire company,” he said. “It’s something that the employees show a lot of pride in.”
Schroer noted that investing in employees who serve in the Guard and reserves doesn’t just benefit the employees, either. “We have a lot of investment in employees who get deployed, and we would love to see them come back and be able to utilize that training once again and also bring back great training that they get while deployed,” he said. “We feel we get a lot back out of this. It’s not a one-way street at all.”
Union Pacific leaders were “ecstatic” when they heard about the Freedom Award, Schroer said. He said the company plans to continue its relationship with the military.
“We’ve had a lot of great partnerships with the military and keep trying to nurture those. It’s one of those where we keep working on the relationship and it keeps paying off and that’s a great partnership when you have both sides supporting each other,” he said. “We feel like we’re the beneficiary more so than the contributor here.”
Union Pacific will receive the Freedom Award along with 14 other companies in a ceremony Sept. 18 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here. The Freedom Award was instituted in 1996 under the auspices of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve to recognize exceptional support from the employer community.
— Sara Moore, American Forces Press Service