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Superior considers making MLK Day a paid holiday

More than two years after it was originally proposed, the city's HR committee favored recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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Martin Luther King Jr. waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, during the "March on Washington." Superior could join other communities in Wisconsin in recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday. (AFP / Getty Images)

Superior’s nonunion employees could get another paid holiday every year.

The city’s Human Resources Committee on July 19 approved making Martin Luther King Jr. Day, celebrated the third Monday in January, a paid holiday for city staff, excluding those who work in the police and fire departments under union contract.

Councilor Ruth Ludwig proposed the measure that was never adopted two years ago when Mayor Jim Paine proposed it.

“I think Martin Luther King Day is just like Independence Day,” Ludwig said. “We celebrate our independence from an oppressive government, Great Britain. But we know that all of us did not gain independence. Even after the Civil War … it did not occur.”

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She said the holiday is an opportunity to celebrate peaceful activism and contemplate those who remain oppressed in the nation.

“If we did approve it, we would join Burlington, Appleton and Milwaukee, Duluth and the school district in recognizing the holiday,” Councilor Jenny Van Sickle said.

When the measure was debated in 2019, Van Sickle did not serve on the human resources committee. After reviewing the minutes and information collected by the committee then, she said it wasn’t clear to her why the measure was voted down after four months of discussion.

Paine said, based on his recollection, the discussion had simply exhausted itself.

Councilor Jack Sweeney, who served on the committee at that time, said for him, it was a question of adding another holiday or trading Martin Luther King Jr. Day for another holiday the city already recognizes. He said surveys of city staff showed they favored adding a holiday, but they were not in favor of adding Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the expense of another.

“We have 10 holidays now,” Sweeney said. “I’m not in favor of adding another holiday.”

Whether it’s a holiday or not, Paine said the cost to the city for staff time will be paid either way. He said he disagreed with arguments two years ago about the loss of productivity.

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“There’s strong evidence that time off actually increases productivity,” Paine said.

Sweeney questioned where it ends because people could come up with additional holidays in the future.

“If you want to change a day, I’m fine with it, but I’m not for adding a holiday,” Sweeney said.

“I’m not in favor of passing something out of this committee on a split vote,” Van Sickle said. However, she made the motion to add the paid holiday, which was seconded by Ludwig, because she didn’t believe consensus was possible. She noted that police- and fire- represented employees have more paid holidays than the non-represented employees do, even with the new addition.

“I don’t think we’re being excessive,” Paine said. “Douglas County has 11 paid holidays.”

The committee split 2-1 to add the holiday, with Sweeney opposing the measure.

“I think this is significant to our community, significant to our culture and a positive benefit to our employees,” Paine said.

The Superior City Council will consider the proposal when it meets Tuesday, Aug. 3.

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