October 6, 2006

Marine fights on two fronts: Insurgents in Iraq and city layoffs at home

U.S. Marine Reservist Carlos Gonzalez had two things on his mind this past week: fighting for his country in Iraq and possibly preparing to fight for his job as a firefighter in Perth Amboy, NJ. 

U.S. Marine Reservist Carlos Gonzalez had two things on his mind this past week: fighting for his country in Iraq and possibly preparing to fight for his job as a firefighter in Perth Amboy, NJ. However, recent developments have Gonzalez feeling a bit more comfortable with his job security.

Gonzalez’s job was scheduled to be one of 12 fellow firefighters slated to be cut due to a proposed $68 million dollar budget introduced last week by the City Council. Gonzalez, who is ranked fifth on the layoff list, is scheduled to return to Perth Amboy at the end of October.

“It saddens me to know the city can terminate his position,” said Gonzalez's sister Egnita Santana of Avenel. “This is ridiculous that after serving our country and fighting a war that he will be coming home to fight for his job.”

Although the Gonzalez family was fearful for Carlos’s job, members of the GI Go Fund attended the City Council meeting concerning the cuts with a petition of over 200 signatures in support of Gonzalez. The signatures came from concerned citizens who felt it to be shameful to fire someone while fighting in the war.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Fanous. “How is it fair for a soldier to come home after spending a year dodging bullets and fighting for this country, only to return home with no job and no income? I think everyone would agree that Mr. Gonzalez has been through enough from his time in Iraq to be handed a pink slip.”

As GI Go President Jack Fanous presented the petition to the council, he said that it must be the position of the council not only to protect Gonzalez’s job but go further and honor his work in Iraq.

"When this country was in World War One,” said GI Go VP Alexander Manis, “everything here at home came to a stop to support the war effort. Factories all over the country shifted their own manufacturing to make guns and other supplies for our soldiers overseas. Luckily today this country’s might allows us not to be in a situation where things like this are needed. But I cannot believe that in almost 60 years we went from stopping our whole existence to help these guys to even considering laying him off like anyone else. This man needs to be given the type of respect that this country was giving its soldiers 60 years ago.”

Two days after the council meeting, Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas introduced legislation that would prevent Gonzalez from being laid off. Vas said he plans to present a bill next week calling for the state Department of Personnel to offer exemptions for layoffs and demotions for any permanent local, county or state public employee who is on active duty.

“I think it's the right thing to do,” said Vas, who was surprised to learn that the existing state rules and regulations don't protect active duty soldiers.

While department rules give preference to veterans for hirings and promotions, no exemptions are offered to active duty soldiers like Gonzalez. If the bill is introduced next week, Vas hopes it could be approved quickly and signed by Nov. 15 when the layoffs are expected to be implemented, so Gonzalez's job could be spared.

“Hopefully this can get done soon,” said President Fanous. “We have a long road ahead of us, and this is only the beginning. GI Go and the Mayor need to get together and start working on the best ways to get this bill passed in time for Carlos’s return in October.”

Fanous also added that this case is vital to our soldiers who are looking for reassurance that they will be taken care of when they come home.

“It won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is,” said Fanous.