The tire industry is sending its share of military reservists and National Guard members to the conflict in Iraq, but only in certain instances are tire companies publicizing the fact.
Tire dealers, in general, are simply answering their country's call without calling attention to themselves, according to Roy E. Littlefield III, executive vice president of the Tire Industry Association. Mr. Littlefield said he had no numbers regarding military reservists from TIA members, but he knew there were many.
``They're not saying a lot,'' Mr. Littlefield said of dealers. ``But when we talk about small business being the backbone of America, this is the perfect instance of it. They have a tremendous amount of patriotism, they're proud to be part of it, and they don't make a big deal about it.''
For the most part, business ``has been soft for a few months now,'' he added, so it probably has been easier for some dealers to absorb employee absences.
A spokesman for the Specialty Equipment Market Association also had no figures about reservists among SEMA members, although SEMA did forward to its members a Small Business Administration release about the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan (MREIDL) program.
That program, begun in 1999, offers non-farm small businesses up to $1.5 million each in loans to meet necessary operating expenses and normal debt payments that could have been met before the loss of a key employee, including the owner/operator. The program can't be used to make up for lost profits, refinance long-term debt, purchase fixed assets or expand the business, the SBA said.
One automotive aftermarket company that did issue a press release about its support for its military reservist employees was Pep Boys-Manny, Moe & Jack. The Philadelphia-based company-an auto parts and auto service provider with 629 stores in 36 states and Puerto Rico-said it issued the release only to counter accusations from a former employee that he had been terminated because of his military reservist status.
Currently, Pep Boys has more than 30 reservist and National Guard employees, and all of them have retained their same positions with the company over a period of years despite several call-ups for military service, the company said in the release.
``Pep Boys would never terminate an employee for military service in support of our nation and is very proud, not only of those Pep Boys associates currently serving our country, but of every U.S. service man and woman who has ever served,'' it said.
The Ardmoreite, Michelin North America Inc.'s house newspaper at its Ardmore, Okla., plant, ran a story about the 10 plant reservist employees called up for active duty, fully one-fourth of the tire maker's U.S. workers called for duty in the Iraq war.
The article stated that Michelin and other companies offer such benefits to called-up reservists as differential pay (making up the difference between their military and business pay), continued health benefits and a guarantee of employment upon return from active duty. Michelin offers differential pay to reservists for up to one year during periods of active duty, according to the article.
Goodyear, which has close to 200 reservists on its payroll, offers differential pay and health benefits for up to six months during active duty, Goodyear spokesmen said.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. has a policy designed to keep military personnel's pay in line with their civilian pay during deployment.
For example, employees with Sears Auto Centers and the company's NTB (National Tire & Battery) outlets will receive the balance of their civilian pay above military pay, plus regular benefits. The policy normally is in place for 30-day periods, but Sears extended it for 24 months.
``If the conflict goes on longer than 24 months, we expect to extend it,'' a spokeswoman told Tire Business.
About 450 of the company's 240,000 employees are deployed. She said some positions may be filled with temporary workers, or duties of co-workers may be shifted. Sears maintains a comparable job for military personnel for up to five years, the spokeswoman added.