Fred Meyer gives Iraq war vets back pay

Joe Aispuro and other vets have been given back pay and benefits by Fred Meyer originally denied them after serving overseas.

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by Ed Teachout, KGW staff

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

kgw.com

Posted on March 16, 2011 at 8:25 AM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 16 at 1:21 PM

BEAVERTON -- Joe Aispuro has won a year-long battle with Fred Meyer for a pay raise, since returning from active duty in Iraq with the Oregon National Guard.

"I'm entitled to get any raises that I would have earned had I not left, it's fair treatment," Aispuro told KGW.

He said he started working at the Beaverton Fred Meyer in the spring of 2006 and joined the Guard in the spring of 2009.

While deployed, he learned of the Federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act or USERRA.

Aispuro said when returned home from war, "this guy was doing the job I did, and now he could possibly be my boss right now. He's in management and that's the track I was on, but he's making more money simply because I didn't put in the hours."

At Fred Meyer the more hours an employee puts in, the more raises they earn. Fred Meyer does not question that Aispuro would have put in the hours to make a pay raise had he not gone into battle.

"It's a gray area of the law," said Melinda Merrill, Fred Meyer spokeswoman.

The company is a subsidiary of Kroger Co., which owns  a variety of grocery stores. It has a Kroger Co. Policy on Business Ethics that reads in part:

"It is our goal to provide jobs that are satisfying and challenging to each individual . . .  We will provide for growth and development through appraisal, counseling, training programs and on-the-job experience. We are committed to dealing fairly and equitably with each associate."

Aispuro said he asked the Fred Meyer human resources department to pay for the raises he would have made, but they said no.

Aispuro said he then went to his union but they also would not help him. He then went to the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve but "they also said no."

It wasn't until Aispuro asked the Oregon Department of Justice for help that he got any.

"The are my heroes," said Aispuro.

Veterans Affairs Director Jim Willis said "We are pleased that Fred Meyer, a progressive and prominent Oregon employer, has taken a proactive approach to comply with re-employment rights for all it's veteran employees,"

Fred Meyer's Merrill said "we were not violating the law. Tthis is not a penalty, it's an interpretation of the law which is a bit unclear but it's the right decision to make sure our deployed troops get the benefit."

Fred Meyer is now paying back pay and benefits to Aispuro and nearly 30 other veteran employees for their work the past seven years.

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