DETROIT - The industry is going above and beyond the call of duty to aid reservists in its ranks as the military call up intensifies.
Automakers and many suppliers are voluntarily paying the difference between military and civilian salaries and maintaining benefits, including medical, dental and life insurance, for called up reservists for up to several months or even years.
By law, companies are only required to hold reservists' jobs open and available. If they are summoned, that leaves reservists facing a big pay cut and the loss of benefits for their families.
The industry's largess is a "We support these folks" statement by automakers and suppliers, says Neil De Koker, managing director for the Original Equipment Suppliers Association in Troy, Mich.
Called up reservists and National Guard members are just a fraction of the industry's total employment. General Motors, for example, has just 100 of its 190,000 employees in the United States on active military duty.
But the cost to employers is significant. Reservists are increasingly being called away from their jobs for longer deployments, doing duty during the Persian Gulf war and the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Kosovo. President Bush called up 50,000 reservists following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. More than 200,000 have been called up so far for the war in Iraq. These demands follow a decade of downsizing of the regular military.