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Panel reluctant to increase holidays for city of Superior workers

Superior city workers will be asked to take a survey to determine if they would be willing to give up another holiday to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday.

Councilor Craig Sutherland, a member of the city's Human Resources Committee, said he is reluctant to create another holiday when city staff already have 10 paid holidays per year, and the average among Wisconsin communities, counties and the state is only nine paid holidays a year, according to a survey conducted by the Superior Human Resources Department.

"Why the arbitrary loyalty to 10 holidays?" Mayor Jim Paine asked. "We can speak to employees, but I see no reason why we need to give up another holiday. I think that's just asking employees to trade something that they've already expected for this holiday."

Paine introduced the measure to allow city staff to take Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday on behalf of the Mayor's Commission of Communities of Color. The Superior School Board adopted a similar proposal last May; schools will be closed for the first time on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2020.

"As we pointed out last meeting is there is no fiscal impact here," Paine said. "The only real argument I heard against this was that it could potentially decrease productivity, but there's no evidence for that either."

Paine said in researching the argument, he quickly discovered eight articles that suggest giving workers time off actually increases productivity.

In fact, Paine said, when there is a holiday, ongoing work gets done at a higher level of productivity. Trash collection schedules, for example, are routinely modified during holiday weeks so drivers can get through their routes.

"I'm confused what the big deal is here," Paine said. "I'm surprised. I thought this was relatively non-controversial. It's an important holiday recognized by the federal government, the state of Wisconsin, by a number of other communities in Wisconsin. I don't see what the harm is in giving our employees another day off."

However, adding another holiday would give city staff 11 paid holidays per year, more than city employees receive in most cities surveyed, Councilor Jack Sweeney said. He said of the 50 respondents surveyed, there were only four that had more than 10 holidays, he said. While the state recognizes the Martin Luther King Jr. day as a holiday, he said the state only has nine holidays per year.

"There is some precedent for not going to that 11th holiday," Sweeney said. He said while he would support making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday, he is reluctant to do so when the city already has 10 recognized holidays.

City holidays include New Year's Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and the day after, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Police and fire departments negotiate holidays as part of their labor contracts, but other city workers receive additional floating holidays.

Department heads, division managers and professional staff are the only city employees that only receive 10 holidays per year.

"It isn't unprecedented on a national holiday that it automatically falls that the city would be closed," Sweeney said on Presidents Day.

Only Douglas County offices were closed for holiday Monday, Feb. 18.

Councilor Ruth Ludwig said she would feel like she was being asked to give up something if she was asked to take the survey.

"I just think 10 holidays is enough," Sweeney said. "If they wanted to trade one — I like the idea of the employees making the decision."

Sutherland said he fully supports making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday, but with the holiday 11 months away, there is no rush to make a decision.

"There is a little symbolism here that we have the opportunity to capture," Paine said. "We passed on the opportunity to pass this on Martin Luther King Day itself. We are now seemingly passing on the opportunity to pass this in Black History Month. This stuff matters to communities of color. It matters to Superior ... If I seem passionate, it's because it was proposed by the commission. It was proposed by the head of the NAACP. We need to be forward and progressive on these issues."