Last week, the city of San Francisco became one of the first corners of the United States to require some private employers to provide a form of paid military leave to their employees who serve as part-time members of the National Guard or other reserve components of the military.

Federal law guarantees that the military’s reserve members won’t lose their jobs or seniority when they don their uniforms for short- or long-term periods of service, like deployments. But the federal protections don’t require employers to provide paid leave.

That leaves part-time troops around the country with uneven pay and benefits dependent on each employer’s policy. Some have resorted to creating databases tracking military leave policies, which aren’t easily accessible to reservists trying to find friendly employers.

The San Francisco law, passed at a Dec. 13 city Board of Supervisors meeting, requires employers there with 100 or more employees to provide “differential” paid military leave for up to 30 days per calendar year. Differential leave is where employees whose civilian pay is more than their military pay receive partial pay from their civilian employer to cover the difference.

Most Guard and reserve troops spend at least 39 days in uniform per year, including mandatory weeks-long annual training periods that interrupt their civilian careers.

Many public sector employees across California already have an identical differential leave benefit, the release said. City officials also believe the law, which will protect approximately 2,000 reservists who live in San Francisco, is the first of its kind in the country.

An Army sergeant with six years of service who makes $30 per hour (or $240 a day) in their civilian job could lose “over $130/day” while attending required training events, according to a press release announcing the legislation. For others, such as the tech industry workers who dominate the Silicon Valley-adjacent city, the losses could be even steeper.

The legislation comes on the heels of a two-and-a-half-year period that’s seen the National Guard used at an unusually high rate for domestic missions that have ranged from COVID-19 mitigation to wildfire suppression and civil disturbance response.

A city legislative aide who worked on the bill, Alan Wong, is also an officer in the California Army National Guard.

In the release, Wong said that this year alone, his soldiers had to complete their routine training requirements (including an approximately three-week-long annual training) in addition to call-ups for wildfire duty and the January 6 insurrection.

“As a result of their service, soldiers serving with me end up losing income that they need to support their families and pay rent,” he said. “This [new law] is about fairness for service members that are putting their lives on the line to defend our country.”

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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