A decision by President Bush to declare the day after Christmas a federal holiday this year may wind up socking city taxpayers for extra cash to keep City Hall open Friday.
A number of city offices – and the city libraries – will be shuttered to save money, while others will operate with less than full service.
The reason is that for the past 30 years, union pacts have required the city to grant days off to its clerical and “outside” workers if the state or federal government declares a special holiday.
Mayor Art Ward said that anyone in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers’ Local 233 or Local 1338 is entitled to a day off with pay on Friday, which means that if they are required to work, they earn double time.
Those that already had the day off, which many had requested already, won’t have to use up a vacation day to stay home because of Bush’s decision.
Ward said Monday he’s not too happy with the president.
“Why they even think of something like this at this time is beyond me.” Ward said. His voice dripping with sarcasm, the mayor added, “it sure gave a big boost to our economic stimulus.”
The White House said that since 1952, federal workers have been excused from duty eight straight times on Dec. 26 when Christmas fell on a Thursday. The last time was in 2003.
In his Dec. 12 declaration of the holiday, Bush ordered that that executive branch agencies and departments close on Dec. 26.
The order doesn’t apply to the U.S. Post Office and it leaves the door open for key personnel to be called in to work, at holiday pay rates.
Bristol has agreed since 1978 to give its two biggest unions the day off whenever the state or federal government declares a holiday, which happens most often on the Friday after Thanksgiving and the days before and after Christmas.
Most of the time in the past decade, the city treated such presidential holidays the same as every other holiday.
This time, Ward said he wants department heads and others who are not covered to come to work and do what they can.
But union members won’t be called in unless it’s absolutely necessary, he said.
“It’s not an option. If it’s a paid holiday, it’s a paid holiday,” the mayor said.
But the day does pose some burdens for departmental operations.
For instance, the tax collector’s office is required to have one of its staff review money that comes in to make sure it’s all counted correctly. Without them, the office can’t operate, Ward said.
So the tax collector and her deputy will simply do paperwork behind closed doors, Ward said said.
Generally, the day after Christmas is almost painfully slow at City Hall, with almost nobody from the public showing up and phones mostly dead. It’s been a day for catching up with backlogged material for most of those who have worked.
Ward said the city is still reviewing exactly what’s going to happen on Friday.
He suggested that before anyone heads to City Hall for something on Friday, they call ahead and make sure the relevant office can handle it.
The libraries will reopen Saturday. City office will be functioning normally on Monday.
On Christmas Eve, City Hall is open only in the morning.
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