Most Butte-Silver Bow government offices would be closed on the day after Thanksgiving instead of Columbus Day in October if commissioners OK a holiday trade.
The proposed swap is borne out of practicality, not political correctness, County Attorney Eileen Joyce said Monday. But she acknowledged that questions and objections to recognizing Columbus Day made it stick out as obvious trade material.
Columbus Day, now the second Monday each October, became a federal holiday in 1934 by acts of Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and many states and local governments also recognize it as a legal holiday.
It was meant to recognize Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492 and the birth of a “new world,” but it has been under attack, especially in recent years, on several fronts.
Among other things, critics say there already were millions of people in the Americas when Columbus arrived, others from Europe got here before him, and his arrival ushered in disease and injustices that devastated native people.
There was a bill in the Montana Legislature in the 2019 session that would have renamed the state holiday “Indigenous People’s Day,” and an amendment that would have moved it to the Friday after Thanksgiving. But the measures failed.
Simply put, Joyce said, some people “say we shouldn’t be celebrating that person’s day.”
But there are practical reasons behind the proposed switch.
Joyce said many county employees represented by unions already get the day after Thanksgiving off, and many who aren’t in unions use vacation or comp time so they don’t have to come in on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
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There are about 475 full-time county employees in Butte-Silver Bow and 95 aren’t represented by unions, officials say. Those 95 don’t get the Friday following Thanksgiving off and neither do about 60 employees in a union representing clerical workers.
But while the courthouse is open on that Friday and some non-emergency employees come in, Joyce said, hardly anyone from the public does.
“We run by a skeleton crew and nobody comes in,” she said. “I have stayed and let others take vacation or time off and you could read a book.”
On the other hand, she said, some citizens do come in on Columbus Day not knowing the courthouse is closed.
“A lot more people would come to work on a Monday in October than come in a day after Thanksgiving, when the courthouse is skeleton crews everywhere,” Joyce said.
The county took a poll of non-union employees earlier this year and a majority favored swapping Columbus Day for the Friday after Thanksgiving, Joyce said. Members of the clerical union were recently polled and of 51 who weighed in, 43 favored the switch.
It’s not a done deal yet.
A public hearing will likely be set before council on Sept. 25 and anyone can attend and weigh in. The council would have to approve the switch at a later meeting and an agreement with the clerical union would have to be put in writing.