Officials consider making MLK Day a city holiday
Superior city officials are weighing the possibility of making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday for employees.
Mayor Jim Paine, who attended the day's events Monday in Duluth, proposed giving city staff the federal holiday off. He made an initial pitch to the city's Human Resources Committee.
"There are also some very real events that happen on Martin Luther King Jr. Day," Paine said. "Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I just came from some of those events, which had some of their highest attendance ever. There's a march in Duluth and a large rally with a number of cultural ... and artistic events. Our employees should be able to participate in those."
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created to honor the civil rights advocate around his birthday in 1983 when president Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law; it was first celebrated the third Monday in January 1986.
Paine said he was approached by Stephan Witherspoon, president of the NAACP in the Twin Ports, who is working on an initiative to get large institutions — namely, the city of Superior and the city's school district — to recognize the day.
It's an idea, Paine said, endorsed by Mayor's Commission on Communities of Color. Paine said the move would give city employees the opportunity to participate community events held that day.
Paine said it's particularly important for the city to consider recognizing the holiday because the School District of Superior is going this way as well.
Next year, the Superior school district will close schools for the federal holiday for the first time. In May, the School Board May approved celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day by closing the schools starting in the 2019-20 school year.
"There were children from Superior at the rallies today," Paine said Monday of students from Superior Middle and Great Lakes Elementary schools..
Cammi Koneczny said creating the paid holiday would not impact the police and fire departments — about 80 city employees total — because holidays are negotiated as part of their contracts. It would impact about 214 non-represented employees.
City employees get between 10 and 15 paid holidays each year including floating holidays and personal days, depending on their job. City department heads, division managers, supervisors and professional staff receive 10 paid holidays per year, while other city employees have floating or personal days that provide 13-15 paid holidays per year.
Councilor Jack Sweeney said his concern about the proposal had nothing to do with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but the cost of the proposal to create another holiday.
The estimated cost of wages paid by the city for a one-day holiday would be about $75,000, but it wouldn't be an additional cost to the city, said Jean Vito, finance director and senior administrator. She said the budget would remain the same and the $75,000 represents lost productivity.
However Councilor Craig Sutherland questioned what would happen if snow removal is required during the January holiday.
Employees would be paid time-and-a-half for their work and receive holiday pay, Human Resources Director Cammi Koneczny said.
Sweeney questioned the number of floating holidays some city employees receive and whether those could be used to attend Martin Luther King Jr. Day events if they chose to, or using one floating holiday for the MLK Day — leaving employees with two floating holidays — or replacing an existing holiday with MLK Day.
"It was an interesting idea that you brought up about the floating holidays," Paine said. "You said there was no reason they couldn't use a floating holiday. The whole city would not be able to take it off so some would be excluded, and now you would be potentially taking away something that they are already taking off."
Paine said he had no objection to changing which holidays employees get off.
Sutherland said he would be willing to make a decision immediately if Martin Luther King Jr. Day was swapped with an existing holiday.
"Martin Luther King Day — I would love to see that on here," said Sutherland, who was concerned about the cost of the proposal when the city already has a tight budget.
City employees are given paid holidays in a variety of ways. Non-union employees, which includes everyone except police and fire, receive a paid day off on New Year's Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and the day after, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Superior firefighters and battalion chiefs receive a lump sum payment for 12 holidays and are paid straight time when they work on a holiday.
Holiday pay for nine days for police and 10 days for sergeants is built into their wages, and sergeants receive overtime when working a holiday. Patrol officers receive other holiday payments.
Paine said MLK Day is akin to Independence Day and Memorial Day, where community events are planned and there is an expectation that city officials participate. He said it makes sense to look at it from that perspective.
Sweeney made a motion to table the matter until next month so the committee could get more information.
"This may be bigger thing than just a day off," Sweeney said. "That's why I am conflicted with this."