Proposed paid holiday on Sept. 11 draws criticism

October 22, 2008 5:18:06 PM PDT
Some officials and people who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001, are criticizing a proposal by police in a Massachusetts city to get extra holiday pay for working on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The proposal would give officers in Peabody who work on Sept. 11 an extra 25 percent over regular pay. It was recently negotiated into the new police union contact, which still needs budgetary approval from the City Council in the working class city north of Boston.

The head of the police union has said the union thought the holiday provision would be an appropriate way to honor and remember Sept. 11. No members of the Peabody police force were killed in the attacks, but some went to New York to help the city recover.

Wayne Nichols said the idea of a Sept. 11 holiday feels exploitive. Nichols' 38-year-old fiancee, Barbara Arestegui, was a flight attendant on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.

"I could see it being a day of remembrance and all that good stuff, but a holiday for police officers who really weren't directly involved? It feels a little like they're exploiting the day, and I wish they wouldn't do that," said Nichols, who lives on Cape Cod.

The Peabody contract also gives officers a 13 percent pay hike over four years. The union accepted concessions on health care and allowed random drug testing.

There are about 100 members of the Peabody police department. The roughly 30 who would work Sept. 11 would get the 25 percent extra pay, while the rest would get a paid holiday at their regular wage rate.

Police union president Manny Costa has said it never occurred to union members who negotiated the new contract that some people would see the holiday as a way of exploiting the tragedy.

"That was never, ever thought of," he told The Salem News. "I'm not looking to cash in because thousands of people lost their lives."

Some city leaders say they will fight the provision.

"The fact that the (Peabody) police department would be receiving extra money for a day when it isn't a recognized national holiday, just doesn't sit well with me," City Councilor Ted Bettencourt said.

"There are other ways the city of Peabody and the police department can honor those who served and those that lost their lives that day," he said.

Robert Driscoll, another city councilor, noted that the union agreed to make some concessions, but said he, too, is uncomfortable linking the day to financial gain.

"To me, probably the best situation would be to say, 'OK, we'll give you the holiday, but maybe you'll donate that money to a charitable cause."' The department already has 12 paid holidays, including Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day), which commemorates the end of World War II; and Evacuation Day, which commemorates when the British left Boston during the Revolutionary War.

Even the New York City police department, which lost 23 officers at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, does not recognize the anniversary as a paid holiday.

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents 24,000 NYPD officers, has tried without success to get a contract provision for extra pay for anti-terrorism work, spokesman Al O'Leary said. He called that more appropriate than extra pay for one day.

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