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Safeway awarded Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award

BY Antoinette Alexander

WASHINGTON — Safeway has announced that it was awarded the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the nation’s highest honor given to employers for support of the National Guard and Reserve, at a special ceremony on Sept. 26 in Washington, D.C. Safeway was one of 15 employers to receive the Freedom Award.

"This award holds special meaning because it recognizes our longstanding commitment to providing employment opportunities to the brave men and women who risk their lives to serve and defend our country," stated Safeway president and CEO Robert Edwards. "It is with much pride that we accept the Freedom Award and we congratulate the other employers receiving this honor."

Previous award recipients, Department of Defense leadership, trade associations and civilian government leaders attended the 18th annual Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building.

"This week, we honor members of the National Guard and Reserve who carry that legacy forward," stated President Barack Obama. "We thank the employers who support them; and we reaffirm our promise to provide our troops, our veterans, and our military families with the opportunities they have earned."

The 2013 award recipients represent large and small businesses, as well as public sector agencies. They were chosen from a field of nearly 2,900 nominations submitted by Reserve Component Service members.

Safeway has a long history of commitment to men and women in the military. The company was among the first employers to commit (more than 10 years ago) to cover the pay differential and extend full benefits to employees in the Reserve and National Guard called to active duty.  Safeway continues to provide this benefit. The company has responded to the need for employment with returning veterans and members of the Guard and Reserve through its Junior Military Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer Programs. Graduates of these training programs qualify for store manager and assistant manager jobs and a range of other manager-level positions in various areas of the company.

In addition to the JMO/NCO programs, Safeway’s Retail Military Recruiting project was launched in 2012 to increase efforts in hiring veterans of all backgrounds. As a result, Safeway hired nearly 1,500 veterans in 2012 and is well on its way to hiring at least another 1,500 veterans by the end of 2013.

Safeway’s support also goes beyond hiring. Over the past several years, Safeway employees have packed and shipped more than 2,000 care packages to active duty military personnel overseas.

 

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Maintaining health coverage is the right thing to do, and the smart business decision to make

BY Michael Johnsen

H-E-B pledged to not reduce employee work hours in an effort to avoid having to cover their healthcare last week. In contrast, other employers have been cutting their employee hours to avoid the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provision that would require healthcare coverage, according to a report published in the San Antonio Express-News

And while some companies may be looking at ways to squeeze more out of their businesses, H-E-B, along with Walgreens and others, should be applauded for doing the right thing. 

Specifically, beginning Jan. 1, companies with at least 50 employees will be mandated to provide affordable health insurance to their full-time employees, defined as those employees who work 30-or-more hours per week. 

With regard to Walgreens, the company announced that it will provide more than 160,000 of its employees health insurance coverage through the "Live Well Benefits Store" — expanding health coverage choices for its employees, and for most cutting their out-of-picket expenditures. 

Make no mistake, maintaining and even expanding health insurance coverage is a sound business decision, with tangible business outcomes. According to a June 10 blog published by the Wall Street Journal, out of paying the fine for noncompliance, reducing the workforce to all part-time employees and expanding healthcare coverage for full-time employees, expanding coverage turned out to be the least expensive option. 

Counterintuitive? Not really. Not when you consider employee turnover and the customer service value associated with tenured employees. According to Cumberland Farms, a convenience store chain that similarly elected to maintain coverage for its employees, full-time employees stay three to four times longer as compared with part-timers. When turnover is high, customer satisfaction suffers.

According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, 85% of full-time workers had access to employer-provided health coverage, compared to only 24% of part-time workers. Comprehensive employee benefits continue to be one of the primary ways that businesses stay competitive in recruiting top talent.

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A lesson to be learned from Barilla chairman’s remarks

BY Antoinette Alexander

Barilla, a leading Italian pasta brand, has become the subject of an international boycott after company chairman, Guido Barilla, made remarks during a radio interview that critics have characterized as disparaging gay people.

While everyone is entitled to having a personal opinion, this is lesson 101 on what not to say. If you want your brand to reflect your personal opinion — which you are, of course, entitled to — don’t be surprised if people who don’t share your opinion don’t want to share your brand experience either.

In response to the backlash, Barilla posted a statement on its Facebook page that reads: “At Barilla, we consider it our mission to treat our consumers and partners as our neighbors — with love and respect — and to deliver the very best products possible. We take this responsibility seriously and consider it a core part of who we are as a family-owned company. While we can’t undo recent remarks, we can apologize. To all of our friends, family, employees and partners that we have hurt or offended, we are deeply sorry.”

However, judging by the consumer comments posted on its Facebook page, the damage has been done.

One post reads: “I’m Italian, I’m gay, I’m married legally to a man, I have three adopted children. I had Barilla pasta for dinner last night. Today, tomorrow and forever more I will choose another brand of pasta. Good bye Barilla! You lose!!!”

Another post reads: “And we who disagree with the CEO comments, even as we uphold the value of free speech, are also very free to never purchase his product again while it serves to benefit his pocketbook. Plain and simple.”

And another post was a photo of a garbage can filled with unopened boxes of Barilla pasta.

This is going to cost Barilla big time, and it is unlikely that any marketing effort, social outreach or social media campaign will fix this.

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