State employees to N.J. gov: ‘No thanks’

By: - November 21, 2007 12:00 am

On the day after Thanksgiving, turn on some football and recover from the turkey you gorged on yesterday, or storm the shopping mall. But be thankful – that you’re not a state employee in New Jersey or 17 other states.

For only the second time in 45 years, New Jersey state employees must report to work on the Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday, or take a vacation day.

While workers punching the clock in other state capitols or the federal government may take “Black Friday” duty in stride – and may even count themselves blessed for government toll-booth workers and security officers who have to work on Thanksgiving Day – some New Jersey state workers are irate.

“Thanks for nothing, Governor!” states an update on the Web site of a branch of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which tried and failed to convince New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) to rescind his decision to keep state government doors open on Friday (Nov. 23).

A few New Jersey workers riled up at missing “Black Friday,” the biggest shopping day of the year, even have discussed spending the day shopping anyway – online at their work stations, said Carla Katz, president of the state’s largest union, CWA Local 1034. She added, though, that state computers aren’t supposed to be used for that.

While the day after Thanksgiving was never officially a state holiday, all New Jersey governors since 1962 have granted the day off except for once. This year Corzine chose not to give the extra day off to the 80,000 state workers because he feels state offices should be open to serve taxpayers , his spokespeople have said.

Employees inundated the governor’s office for two days this month with more than 5,500 calls and e-mails in a CWA-coordinated effort to negotiate a day off. Katz said the volume of calls was even greater than other call-ins on issues like contract disputes and layoffs.

Corzine’s move cuts against the grain of data showing that U.S. employers are getting a little more generous with company time this Thanksgiving. A recent survey by the Bureau of National Affairs found that 78 percent of private and public employers will give workers off both Thursday and Friday, the highest percentage since it started tracking the issue in 1980.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D), in his first holiday cycle since his 2006 election, is moving in the opposite direction of Corzine. Ritter brought back a tradition abandoned by former Gov. Bill Owens (R) and is giving state workers one extra day off, to be chosen from the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. However, employees have to clear that day off with supervisors first to ensure that all Colorado state offices will still be open those days.

“Our citizens expect to have their state employees working for them, and we work hard to make sure that their needs are met,” said Julie Postlethwait, a spokeswoman for Colorado’s Department of Personnel and Administration. Asked whether much state business could be accomplished the day after Thanksgiving, she said, “Personally, I’ve worked for the last four years, and I got a lot of work done.”

For those government workers in the 32 states who get a free day, relief comes in a variety of forms. Most states tack Friday onto the Thanksgiving holiday, but a few swap holidays: On Nov. 23, Georgia celebrates Robert E. Lee’s birthday (actual birthday: Jan. 19), Indiana commemorates Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (actually Feb. 12), New Mexico observes President’s Day late and Tennessee swaps for Columbus Day. Meanwhile, Nevada celebrates Family Day after Thanksgiving.

In about a dozen states, workers are at the mercy of their governors. The governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and South Dakota all signed executive orders to give their employees Nov. 23 off.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) allows his agency heads to decide whether to close shop. Wyoming workers await the annual November e-mail that usually tells them the governor will grant them a free day that can be used anytime before July, though it’s meant to give them some post-Thanksgiving rest.

On Black Friday, Katz predicts state workers in New Jersey still will have their minds on Corzine. “I’m sure that the ones that do come to work on Friday will spend part of their day calling the governor to make sure he’s busy and hard at work,” she said.

In all, 18 states require employees to show up for work on Friday: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

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