An Expensive Attempt to Save Money

March 3, 2011
By

By Seth Daniel and Joshua Resnek

A move to save money on the so-called “hack holidays” of Bunker Hill and Evacuation Day is actually ending up costing every city and town in Suffolk County more money.

In Boston alone, where Mayor Menino is offering employees a floater day to replace the lost holiday, the added cost is estimated at over $2 million.

In Chelsea, Winthrop and Revere, the costs are great and the foolishness even greater.

Trying to erase Bunker Hill Day as a holiday to save money is a mistake in the first place.

Considering all the blood that was shed that day by American patriots at the beginning of the Revolutionary War the effort to do away with the holiday as a money saver is a travesty.

Locally, it is expected that Bunker Hill Day will remain one of the most significant holidays of the year for Charlestown residents – as well it should.

Evacuation Day commemorates the placement of cannon at Dorchester Heights, the shooting of the cannon and the subsequent retreat out of Boston Harbor of the British Fleet.

No lives were lost.

Bunker Hill Day celebrates one of the most significant engagements between the British and the Americans which set the tone for the long war to follow.

Hundreds died. Many hundreds more were wounded at Bunker Hill.

If the Americans hadn’t run out of ammunition, they wouldn’t have been routed and Charlestown in all likelihood wouldn’t have been burned to the ground.

 

The Battle of Bunker Hill was the first time that anyone in any country of the world had stood up to the British Empire in almost 300 years.

The Legislatures ill-advised decision to cut out the holidays was followed by the governor’s decision to sign the paperwork.

Then came the harsh reality that all the money to be saved by ending the holidays would not be saved at all – in fact – it was going to cost more.

Why?

Because of union contracts, which require that these days off be paid – whether or not they are any longer days off doesn’t matter. Union public employees must be paid – and must be paid double-time in this instance as the union contract considers these days as holidays.

Mayor Menino has already indicated Boston city employees will be given the choice to take the day or another day at another time – a comp or folater day so to speak.

In Revere, which is basically broke, it is just another headache for its beleaguered mayor.

Mayor Tom Ambrosino said he is trying to figure out how to deal with the “foolish” situation that is confronting Revere and all other Suffolk County municipalities this year, a situation that will most likely result in having to pay city workers double time for coming into work on those two days.

Before this year, the days were only regular paid holidays.

The problem stems from an effort in last year’s State Budget to eliminate Bunker Hill Day and Evacuation Day – hopefully saving the state quite a bit of money. The original effort was noble, but a last minute addition to the law in order to pacify opponents called for retaining the holiday status while keeping government offices open.

It ends up being the holiday that isn’t a holiday, but is really a holiday.

So, that final solution was drawn up in a way that indicated the days were still holidays, but that municipal buildings and offices had to be open and “adequately staffed.”

It was an effort to save money on the two controversial holidays, but now it will end up costing more due to existing union contracts – which have both days listed as holidays and call for double pay on holidays.

“That’s just fine in a vacuum, but it’s costing municipalities more money than before,” said Ambrosino. “If you want to bring employees in, they have to be paid double. I’m waiting for the unions to get back to me to tell me what it will cost me to bring people in on their day off. I’ve made an offer to the union to see if I can minimize the impact. They will get back to me on it as to whether they will accept the offer or not.”

He said that a loose projection of costs for Revere is around $20,000, but it could be less.

“It’s costing everyone in Suffolk County more money,” he said. “It’s costing Boston significantly more.”

Municipal buildings that are required to be open would be City Hall, the Legion Building/Inspectional Services, the Library and Parks and Recreation. The Department of Public Works (DPW) and Police and Fire Departments are not affected by the situation.

Incidentally, Ambrosino said he is defining “adequately staffed” as meaning one person in every department.

He said that the situation is simply one created by a lack of attention to detail at the State Legislature.

“I think they just didn’t think through the law,” he said. “They didn’t consider that if Suffolk County has this as a holiday, then it’s probably written into all these union contracts that they are a paid day off and that coming in on a paid day off requires double pay. I don’t think anyone paid a lot of attention to that.”

Evacuation Day falls on March 17 and Bunker Hill Day is on June 17.