Op-Ed: Fight Wage Theft at the National Guard

A drill sergeant with the Mississippi National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion leads the warriors of the Senatobia Recruit Sustainment Program during a road march Oct. 7, 2017. (U.S. National Guard/Staff Sgt. Scott Tynes)
A drill sergeant with the Mississippi National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion leads the warriors of the Senatobia Recruit Sustainment Program during a road march Oct. 7, 2017. (U.S. National Guard/Staff Sgt. Scott Tynes)

Timothy Andrews has worked with the Army National Guard Recruit Sustainment Programs since 2006. He served in the National Guard from 2006 to 2014. He lives in northern California.

Every year on Armed Forces Day, our nation honors active-duty service members and veterans by holding picnics and parades. This year, we should also honor their service by helping them win fair pay and respect on the job.

That's why I'm speaking out to stop an illegal wage theft scheme that costs thousands of National Guard contract workers -- many of whom are veterans -- more than $20 million in stolen wages every year.

I'm one of the victims.

As a recruit sustainment specialist, I'm probably the first face soldiers see after they enlist. I serve as their go-to, fix-it guy. It's my job to make sure that everything in their lives is running smoothly before they ship out to training.

I love what I do. As a former soldier, I know how hard it is to adjust to life in the military. I'm proud to be able to help our men and women in uniform get the support they need so they can focus on the job they signed up to do.

Unfortunately, it seems that the federal government doesn't value jobs like mine. The National Guard Bureau recently awarded our contract to a new company that slashed my pay by $5 an hour. I now make less than I did when I started this job in 2007. It's also what a janitor on a federal contract makes.

There are 350 people on my contract who got hit as hard as me or even worse. And the same thing has been happening across all the National Guard's service member and family support programs. Some of us have had our wages slashed by more than 50 percent.

This draconian pay cut hit me hard. To make ends meet, I had to get a second job, trade in my car for a clunker, and move to a cheaper apartment. I can't even afford a decent meal; I eat the exact same thing everyday to save money.

The truth is that the financial struggle -- as bad as it is -- isn't the worst part. The worst part is knowing that my dedication and years of service are not respected.

I've thought about quitting to take a better paying job, but I haven't pulled the trigger because I know our soldiers will suffer if there's an exodus of experienced workers.

That's the main reason why I decided to stand up and fight for myself and the soldiers I serve. In 2016, I filed a wage theft complaint with the Department of Labor alleging that the National Guard Bureau violated federal law by accepting bids from contractors who were paying me and my co-workers at much lower rates than those set by the law that sets pay on federal service contracts.

Almost two years later, I'm still waiting for the Labor Department to finish its investigation. And the workers on the other programs are also waiting to see results.

Good Jobs Nation recently sent a letter to National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel calling on the government to stop dragging its feet and immediately reverse the pay cuts for thousands of National Guard contract workers in all its service member and family support programs. I hope he takes action.

It's not easy living on the pay I get now. But it's even harder to feel that making a difference and changing lives isn't valued.

We hear a lot of talk these days about how important it is to support our troops. I live that adage every single day. I do my job with passion, dedication and integrity because I understand that what I'm doing is mission-critical.

It's time for the federal government to step up and do the same. The service members and their families who sacrifice so much deserve nothing less.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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