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MUNICIPALITIES SAY EMPLOYEES FAIL TO PUSH FOR HOLIDAY

If you ask local government officials, the municipal employees select the holidays they wish to observe.

That was the common explanation for why a handful of local governments remained open for business Monday despite the national observance of the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

So while thousands of federal, state and local government offices across the country closed in honor of the slain civil rights leader, the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Municipal Building, as well as in government offices in Cheektowaga, West Seneca, Colden, North Tonawanda and Blasdell were open for business as usual.

In municipalities with unionized employees, the observance of holidays often is determined through collective bargaining.

Tonawanda Supervisor Ronald H. Moline said Monday that numerous attempts to negotiate a King holiday with the town's municipal unions have failed. Members of its three unions already receive 13 paid holidays and have declined to substitute the King holiday for any of them.

"The town would love to honor Martin Luther King's birthday; however, we don't want to create a 14th holiday," Moline said.

Kenmore Mayor John W. Beaumont said the village faces the same impediment.

The labor unions "have not asked to negotiate that holiday with us," he said. "If we were approached during our labor negotiations, we would negotiate it."

Though efforts often took years, other local governments have met with success. West Seneca government was open for business Monday, but Supervisor Paul T. Clark said the Town Hall will be closed on King Day next year.

"We just signed a new white-collar contract designating Martin Luther King Day as an official town holiday next year," Clark said. "We've been wanting to be off on this day for years."

Clark said the delay was ironic, considering the role the town, through the West Seneca Youth Bureau, has played in celebrating the life and work of King over the past decade.

Over the years, the agency has organized many service projects with the King Urban Life Center on King's birthday. On Monday, he said, the Youth Bureau kicked off a campaign to help renovate the Michigan Street Baptist Church, the oldest African-American church building in Buffalo.

Tonawanda Mayor Jack Gallagher said Monday he did not know why the city did not honor the King holiday, though he anticipated it would be an item for negotiation with the city's municipal unions next year.

Lockport Mayor Thomas Sullivan, whose city also did not mark the holiday, said negotiations have been put forth to introduce the King holiday as a floating holiday for city workers.

Colden Supervisor Marilynn Calhoun said the issue of observing the King holiday had not been raised until this year. With no municipal unions in the town, Town Board would decide the matter, she said.

"We've always tried to work with our employees, and if it was something they wanted, we would talk with them about it," Calhoun said. "The issue was never brought up by anyone, so we never did anything about it. This year, it was brought up by our employees, so we're going to discuss it."

Local governments are not compelled to observe any of the 10 national holidays, including Thanksgiving or Christmas, but observance of such holidays is uniform throughout the state.

In addition to observing the nine federal holidays, excluding the King holiday, many local governments offer employees Good Friday and the Friday following Thanksgiving, neither of which is a national holiday.

These holidays are observed in the City of Tonawanda and Lockport, for instance, even though both failed to observe the King holiday Monday.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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