The Austin family in Concord, New Hampshire, went through a roller coaster of emotions shortly after the ball dropped to ring in the new year.
Their fourth child, a son named Cainan, was the first baby born in the city in 2017, at 7:44 a.m. on New Year's Day.
Hours earlier, around 1 a.m., father Lamar Austin also lost his job, via text message no less. But he told the Concord Monitor, "Sometimes you lose something and you get something even better."
Austin made an honorable choice to put family first. His former employer made a choice too — one that sounds heartless, but was legal.
An Army ammunition specialist who served six months in Iraq, Austin struggled to find steady work to support his family after he left the service. He had bounced around a variety of jobs, from crossing guard to fryer manufacturing, and relied on support from veterans programs and his local church community. "It’s been tough, but God has always provided for me when I needed it," he said in an interview with the Concord Monitor. "Some kind of help always came in the strangest forms."
In the fall of 2016, he received an opportunity to put his military training to use at Salerno Protective Services, a private security firm based in New Hampshire. Austin was hired on a part-time basis for a 90-day trial period, during which he was reportedly expected to be on call 24/7.
The problem is much, much bigger than Austin and this one company.
Even if Austin were a full-time, salaried employee with an expectation of job security, it might not have mattered.
New Hampshire is an "employment at-will" state, which essentially means contractual employees can be terminated from a job at any time, without reason. Some states do have limitations on this law, but not the Granite State.
New Hampshire recognizes the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but for Austin and his family, it wouldn't be enough. Even working full-time at that wage, he would gross just over $15,000 a year, which is well below the poverty line for his family. While New Hampshire might have a low unemployment rate, underemployment is a different story — and the situation can be worse for veterans.
Furthermore, the United States is one of the only developed nations that doesn't guarantee paid parental leave after the birth of a child. Some U.S. companies do choose to offer maternity leave (or at least unpaid time off with a job to return to), but paternity leave is still hard to come by.
The CEO of Salero Protective Systems did admit to an "error in judgement" one week later, and while he and Austin have reportedly made peace with one another, it doesn't change the fact that things like this have happened and will continue to happen as long as the law allows it.
Austin's termination was unfortunate. It was also nothing new. This time, however, people are paying attention — and that could make a difference.
Sara Persechino — a Concord resident and total stranger to the Austin family — was so moved by their story that she launched a GoFundMe campaign to help them out, raising more than $8,000 in the first five days. "I don’t think anyone should ever have to choose between their family and their job," she told The Independent.
Even more, Austin has been offered several new job opportunities from people who were touched by his story. Representatives from the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers chapter and the AFL-CIO labor federation reached out to encourage him to take advantage of the flexible and family-friendly support nets offered by their respective unions. Austin would still have to start as an apprentice as he hones his trade, but skilled labor could be just what he needs to find steady work.
Austin hasn't made any decisions just yet, as he is focusing on being a good dad to newborn Cainan and a good husband to his wife, Lindsay. He already knows that no matter what happens, he'll always have his family — and that's what matters most.