By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 14, 2009 - National Guardsmen and reservists know the law secures their civilian jobs if they're activated, but some deploy knowing their employers will go above and beyond to take care of them while they're gone. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, which employs about 100 servicemembers, is one of those companies, and has been selected as one of 15 recipients of the 2009 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.
Jeff Cantor, of Marlboro, N.J., one of the company's district sales managers in Wilmington, Del., nominated his employer for the award.
"They keep you whole. They pay the difference between military pay and your AstraZeneca pay while you're deployed," Cantor said. "They keep all benefits intact while you're deployed."
The award recognizes public and private employers for going above and beyond what's required by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve manages the award.
In addition to providing the difference in military and civilian pay and maintaining benefits, AstraZeneca maintains contact with employees and their families for the duration of the deployment. Upon return, military employees are paired with a "buddy" to help them get up to speed on anything that may have changed while they were gone.
Cantor has experienced all of this first-hand.
A lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, Cantor is attached to the 353rd Civil Affairs Command and already has deployed twice since starting with AstraZeneca in 2001. The first tour was in Kosovo and the second sent him to Iraq.
Recently, he had to tell his boss that Uncle Sam had requested his services for a third deployment. This time he will head to Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division.
His announcement, he said, was met only with offers of support. "At no point did anyone sigh, or say, 'Man this is too much time.' [They're] just 100 percent behind me, supportive and wishing me well," Cantor said. "It's quite touching to work for such a great organization like this."
Not only does AstraZeneca take care of its military employees, the company looks out for their families as well.
"Last time that I was deployed to Iraq, they had sent my wife and kids numerous care packages," he added. "They just went out of their way to make sure that my family was OK while I was deployed, which allowed me to be more focused on my mission."
When Cantor learned AstraZeneca had been selected as an award winner he was, in a word, "stoked." He knew winning was a long shot.
"There were 3,200 companies that were nominated and only 15 were selected," he said. "[AstraZeneca] is one of 15, and if you do the math it's like winning the lottery."
Margie Rivera, AstraZeneca's senior manager of equal employment opportunity, said company officials felt the same way.
"We were ecstatic," Rivera said. "This is my personal opinion, [but] I think we knew going in that the types of policies that we have in place for our employees, in general, are really what I consider very progressive."
The company, which employs more than 65,000 people in 100 countries, also has an employee group, the AstraZeneca Military Support group, which reaches out to military members and their families. In the past, they have made dinner for servicemembers living in Fisher Houses at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
"Coupled with what we do in terms of policies and benefits is that personal touch with those individuals that are deployed," Rivera added.
The 15 recipients will be presented with the award during a Sept. 17 ceremony here.