A day off since 1492.

Yesterday was a holiday, I discovered when I started my police rounds. Let me see the hands of those who are a) employed in the private sector; b) had yesterday off; and c) don’t live in Columbus, Ohio.

Yes, I thought so. Columbus Day is one of those holidays we give to public-sector employees in lieu of more money. [Pause.] Just looked at that sentence, and reflected for a moment on the traditional deal we make with public-sector employment: Less money, more holidays, better benefits. For a long time, that was the way of the world. The recession may reorder things a bit. I know many, many people in the private sector who have, in the last year, had to swallow pay cuts. Not a no-raise year, not a watch-your-raise-be-eaten-by-health-care-cost-increases year, but an across-the-board decrease, accompanied by a bigger bite from health care, for a grand total of, well, a lot. Ten, 15 percent, in some cases.

Public-sector workers have been insulated from that, somewhat, at least the ones with contracts. A while back I related my jaw-drop moment while reading about the benefits bestowed upon Detroit city employees, including health care for children up to age twenty-damn-FIVE, and more days off than Ronald Reagan enjoyed in his last years in office. The new mayor, Dave Bing, has baldly stated this is unsustainable. In my own little burg, 2010 means contract-negotiation time, and while no one’s said it out loud yet, there are whispers of haircuts all around. Many other states have had public employees on unpaid furloughs already, however; I’m a follower of Amy Welborn’s Twitter feed, and down in Alabama, I gather she’s been trying to get her driver’s license renewed, enduring Soviet-style lines in the few offices that remain open, and still hasn’t been successful.

All this by way of saying that if you got Columbus Day off, and you got paid for it, I hope you did something wonderful, because that feels like a holiday past its sell-by date.

In the newspaper business, we never got the B-level holidays off — Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, MLK Day and so on. Plus we got the lousy paychecks, too. You see why we’re so surly and wear cheap shoes.

A shabby guy on a crummy bicycle just rode past my house, checking out the recycling bins. Hard times in Michigan.

So. I want to tell you what we did this past weekend, now that I’ve finally exposed the secrets of middle-school dances. After watching “Whip It” the week before, we thought we might check out the local roller derby. And so we did: The Detroit Roller Girls met the Dairyland Dolls of Madison, Wisconsin Saturday at the Masonic Temple. It was a doubleheader, the two travel teams and then the varsity, and it was? Wonderful. Better than “Whip It,” because it wasn’t pretty actresses playing tough, but real tough girls who, you can tell, do not require a security guard to escort them to their cars after the crowd has gone home.

The bout itself was so lopsided — we left at halftime when the score was 151-8, or some such — that I suspect the Dairyland Dolls sent the junior-junior varsity. The Dolls had no D, they had no O, but they did have helmets festooned with Holstein markings. (Where was Wisconsin in its state marketing before cows became kitschy?) But it was still fun, and I think I discovered my roller-derby name, which you may address me by, but don’t tell its owner, who will hunt me down and kill me for theft. Ready? Keyser Suze.

The Detroit Derby Girls field four separate teams. Best name: Detroit Pistoffs.

And now I commence 72 hours of top-speed work, made that way in part by the Columbus Day holiday. Expect thin gruel for a while.

Posted at 9:09 am in Current events, Same ol' same ol' |

41 responses to “A day off since 1492.”

  1. Bill said on October 13, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Ah, pay cuts….The Stella D’Oro cookie company (Italian/Kosher cookies..are they in the Midwest?) just shut it’s factory in the Bronx, throwing 600 people out of work. The union had won an NLRB judgement (unheard of in the Bush years)and the absentee owners, in response, told the workers they had to take pay cuts to stay open. They were making an average of $18 an hour. Owners wanted a buck a year back for 5 years; at the end they would be making $13! This a day after the NLRB judgment came down. Workers said no, management said goodbye, a route to the lower middle class shut down in the Bronx. God Bless America……

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  2. Connie said on October 13, 2009 at 9:39 am

    I am a public sector employee and I DO NOT get Columbus Day off. I do get a floating holiday for President’s Day and Veteran’s Day, but we stay open. Actually we close on Veteran’s Day for our all staff inservice day. If we stayed open we would all spend our day answering phone calls asking if we are open.

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  3. MichaelG said on October 13, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Here in Calif, where it is raining for the first time in months, we who have dedicated our lives to the well being of the State have been rewarded with three furlough days per month (a 15% pay cut) and they cut Lincoln’s Birthday and Columbus Day from our holidays. And they are chiseling the shit out of our travel claims. Some gas stations charge 0.45 for using a debit card. The scrooges in accounting disallowed the 0.45 on a gas bill because it wasn’t gas. It cost the State more than the 0.45 for the asshole to write me the email and to make the adjustment. That’s really cheap and that’s just the start of their work on our travel pay. It costs me an extra $20-$40 a day to travel. Where did the legend about getting rich off travel pay start?

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  4. MichaelG said on October 13, 2009 at 9:50 am

    When I want to know if such and such a place is open I phone and ask what time they close today. That way I maybe don’t sound as stupid as I would asking if they are open. Maybe.

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  5. Hattie said on October 13, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Let’s see. The local minimum security prison just closed, throwing 70 civil service employees out of work. The teachers are being cut by 17 days, giving Hawaii the distinction of having the fewest school days in the country.
    But we did not get any mail on Columbus Day!

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  6. Jeff Borden said on October 13, 2009 at 10:05 am

    One of my friends at a major daily newspaper below the Mason-Dixon line –a tremendously talented fellow who is a brilliant thinker and writer– lost his beat in favor of wire copy and saw his work week reduced to 30 hours. He literally took a 25% pay cut. His wife is a modestly paid schoolteacher, so they are adjusting to the fact that they will be working a lot longer and harder past the time they thought they would be able to retire. Still, he is grateful that he still retains some benefits and gets to work in the newspaper industry. This is what the publishing business has come to: absorb a 25% pay cut with no promise further cuts won’t be forthcoming and be happy about it.

    The company flexing its muscles thusly is led by a cadre of executives who make seven and eight figure salaries for doing shit like this.

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  7. Jim said on October 13, 2009 at 10:14 am

    As a Soldier in the U.S. Army, let me say that I enjoyed my day off yesterday. My wife and I puttered around the house, doing things (cleaning, reorganizing) that we’ve been putting off. A nice, quiet day.

    Sure beats my days as a newspaper reporter, working ridiculous hours, weekends, holidays for lousy pay. I think we got Christmas, Thanksgiving and July 4th off. Oh, and New Year’s Day.

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  8. Deborah said on October 13, 2009 at 10:31 am

    My daughter is a big fan of the Windy City Rollers. She even has an official hoodie. It all started when she worked in a bar where some of the players were regulars. She has taken the party bus from the Cobra Lounge to and from the games. Some of the names of the girls are a hoot. My daughter sometimes comments here so she can tell you about it herself.

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  9. Peter said on October 13, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Keyser, I’m with you on the public sector jobs, although here in Chicago, I think the bargain is public sector employees get more pay and benefits but they have to buy a lot of fundraising tickets and work the polls.

    I know an employee at the City who’s retiring at 54 – the City’s requiring so many furlough days next year that he’ll make more money being retired – and keep all of the health benefits.

    On the other hand, I remember when I did work in New York, the Port Authority had two tier employees – the older ones did quite nice, thank you very much, but anyone hired after 1990 got private sector treatment.

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  10. Jen said on October 13, 2009 at 11:11 am

    When I used to cover the county council, I was shocked and appalled at how many days the county employees got off. And, they were complaining like crazy because they took ONE holiday away. I was just sitting there thinking, “Man, these people do NOT know how good they have it.” They may have finally frozen wages this year – I’m not sure, because I don’t cover it anymore – but they were also getting pay raises every year. Meanwhile, I’m yet to get a pay raise, and we get Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas as holidays. Unfortunately, this year I’ve had to cover things on Memorial Day and Labor Day, and I get to work about 7 hours on Christmas night, too. Woo hoo!

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  11. Linda said on October 13, 2009 at 11:15 am

    In my case, you are wrong. I work in a public library, and I was on the job yesterday. Oh, and because of budget cutbacks, I’m getting less money and splitting more work among less co-workers. Because no matter how much less funding we are getting, more people use the library when they are broke.

    We are not only moving books, but teaching people how to use the internet, even keyboard, because now there are unemployed people who are suddenly told they need to do that to get a job. It’s amazing the disruption this depression is causing hard-working people who are suddenly told, “Those skills you had? Not good enough. Now, ya gotta type and use the internet, and get yourself some e-mail.”

    We are helping people who are applying for unemployment, and free telephones, and helping them use the online databases supplied to them by their online college, which collects the money and doesn’t really instruct its students. That’s how I spent my Columbus Day. But I’m grateful to have a job.

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  12. Jim said on October 13, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Oh, we did get Memorial Day off, too. But working in Auburn … NEVER Labor Day!

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  13. judybusy said on October 13, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Funny the public sector came up. I’m a county-employed social worker. Just yesterday, one of my colleagues was complaining about how the county wants to increase the amount singles pay for health care, impose a wage freeze, and eliminate “stability pay,” a bonus employees receive at the end of the year. When I observed to her that’s NOTHIN’ compared to what many of my friends have had to do lately because of the economy, she made the very good point that everyone should have our benefits.

    So, while I am grateful to have a well-paying job with good bennies, I don’t like to think of it as something only the lucky few get. I do wish everyone got a pension, got to pay $25/month for decent healthcare, and got 10 holidays a year.

    BTW, in our county, many of us are taking voluntary days without pay to help balance he budget. Tim Pawlenty is our governor, and looks to be prepping for the Presidential ticket in 2012. He has refused to raise taxes, and as usual, the poor will pay the most. We’re seeing the effects as more people need help, and there are fewer workers to handle the need. I could go on for much longer, but geez, I got work to do!

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  14. MichaelG said on October 13, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Somebody was complaining about standing in line at the DMV. I just finished a job at the Hollywood DMV. If you live in the area you might have noticed they were closed for a month. The manager there was telling me that they have roughly the same number of employees as they did 15 years ago but the population of the state has increased enormously. Automation helps but the federally mandated citizenship check takes a lot of time and they struggle to keep up. The three furlough days every month are killing them. I was at the West Covina DMV a month or so ago and the lines there were way out into the parking lot. Make an appointment before you go.

    The old trade off is true. I make a lot less than my private sector analogs but make some of it up in stablity and benefits. Take that away and what’s the point?

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  15. Jim said on October 13, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    I’m not sure what problems Amy had at the Alabama DMV. I got my license there this summer, and the wait was better than I remembered in Indiana.

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  16. Sue said on October 13, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    What is different this time in budget-cutting, I am noticing in my municipality, is that there has not been as much of the “make cuts but make sure I don’t notice it” attitude among the citizenry. People seem to realize, for once, that the level of hurt necessary to make this work is going to affect everyone, and for the most part people have been understanding. Next year might be a different matter, since some of the eliminated services are technical/professional and cannot just be picked up by other employees.
    What I notice in the public sector is that management is comparatively underpaid, mid-level (technical and clerical) does well, and lower-level (aides of all kinds) get screwed. Just my observation. And the reason you have the hated unions in the public sector, like hated unions anywhere else, is because of what happens when you don’t. What seems to be different this time is that those negotiated salaries and benefits aren’t having the positive affect on non-union workers that they used to have, because there’s no reason to offer anything competitive in the private sector when you’ve got your pick of workers.
    Schools have been getting hit so hard for so long around here that parents who can are responding by moving their kids out to better-funded school districts – if you can get your kid to the school of your choice you aren’t penalized in this open-enrollment state. Obviously, the result in my school district is predictable as enrollment falls and more cost-cutting is required. Fortunately, the administrative staffs have not been hit substantially so there are lots of people to plan the next round of cuts.

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  17. beb said on October 13, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Oddly enough, Detroit city employees do not have Columbus Day off. We do have Electon Day off, but that’s a machine politics things, not something I ever cared about. Of course making election day a national holiday has a number of supporters.

    Mayor Bing isn’t talking about givingn the unions a haircut, he’s more like trying to cut their throats, with drastic cuts in health and pension povisions, especially for new hires. And as a city employee most contracts have been minimal raise types, for the last twenty years. And we’ve already had a couple rounds of days-off-without-pay.

    Yes, the city is hurting but why does all the pain get offloaded onto the workers?

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  18. Jeff Borden said on October 13, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    And in Chicago. . .the CTA will be raising the fares to $3 per ride and will still need to cut dozens of bus routes because of the budget crunch despite rising ridership driven by the higher cost of gasoline.

    Public transportation is such a sensible idea and it’s good for everyone. Those who prefer to drive their cars to work have less traffic and those of us who prefer to save gas and parking fees can ride the trains and buses.

    This increase doesn’t seem that high –current fares are $2.50 each way– but someone on a very limited income is now going to have to find an extra $5 per week just to get to and from work. Isn’t that always the way it works out? The poor can never catch a break.

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  19. Little Bird said on October 13, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Like Deborah said, I really enjoy going to the roller derby bouts here in Chicago. The Windy City Rollers are really interesting group of women. As for the names, my favorites are Yvette Yermaker, Peg Leg, Phannie of the Opera, Nina Millimeter, and (the famous) Tequila Mockingbird.
    To get an idea how dangerous the sport really is, google Tequila’s story. It’ll make you understand why, in order to participate, you must have health insurance.

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  20. Connie said on October 13, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I manage over 100 public sector employees, who make between $24,000 and $65,000 depending on their management level and years of seniority. They will not get raises in the next budget year. Neither will I. Their health insurance copay just went up to $20.00 from $15.00, to keep the premium cost at a point where I can still pay 100% of employee health care coverage. They pay for their own spouse and/or kids coverage They get 8 paid holidays plus two floating holidays. Vacation benefits grow nicely once you get some years in. And best of all, all are in a public retirement defined benefit plan.

    In the past year us public employees from various entities have found ourselves telling each other that for the moment we are rather thankful to be public employees. For the moment. I do not think that we are overpaid or over benefited, and I know how low county and city pay rates are around here.

    I remember when the best jobs in Michigan were state jobs. Ha!

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  21. Connie said on October 13, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Indiana BMV is fixed. You’ll be in and out in minutes. It has been consistently surprising and even amazing, and we still can’t believe it let alone get used to it.

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  22. Jolene said on October 13, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    I’ve had excellent service at the Virginia DMV too. There’s a check-in desk where you tell them what you need, after which you wait (and, if needed, fill out forms) in a reasonably comfortable and very clean area to be called to the window, where employees who seem to know what they’re doing complete the task. The only time I’ve ever had a significant wait was on a Saturday morning, which I can’t really blame them for.

    Meanwhile, Olympia Snowe has said that she will vote in favor of the Finance Committee bill, so healthcare reform, such as it is, will march forward.

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  23. MichaelG said on October 13, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    The trick with the California DMV is to make an appointment. You can go two cycles with on line or through the mail renewals. The third cycle you have to appear in person. I had to appear this time so about a month ago I made an appointment on line for a date at the Carmichael office. I was in and out in about 15 minutes $25 lighter with a new photo and a new eye test. I already have my new license. If you walk in it will be more like two hours minimum.

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  24. moe99 said on October 13, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Jon Stewart on CNN factchecking:


    I went to Steely Dan at the Paramount last night and I have to say that they were spectacular. Small venues like the Paramount really help their type of music. And as they played the entire Aja album from start to finish, I was in heaven.

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  25. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on October 13, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Connie, thanks for the update; i’ve been saying for too long that out of 4 states, Indiana was the longest/worst/rudest/most-awfulest experience in DMV. (Not most expensive; that was WV.) Glad they fixed it. It used to be explicitly patronage by party per county, adding to the delusional quality of the management. Change parties in the House race, and if that tipped the balance, you could go in the next month and see an entirely different crew at work.

    In ye auld days, mind ye.

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  26. ROgirl said on October 13, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    I go for walks through my neighborhood when the weather permits, and my route takes me past the high school football field. One day last week the marching band was practicing. The band director was giving directions over the PA, and they were starting and stopping, so at first I couldn’t tell what they were playing. As I was making my way past the stands I finally realized that they were playing Aja.

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  27. Jen said on October 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    I definitely agree that the Indiana BMV is so much better than it used to be. Since they made their changes a few years ago, I haven’t had to wait more than about 5 minutes for anything. The only problem I had was when I tried to renew my license early – it expired on my 21st birthday, which landed on a Monday, when they’re not open. I didn’t want to drive on an expired license, even for a day, so I went the Friday before my birthday to renew it. Turns out, if you renew your license before your 21st birthday, you have to retake the written test! Thankfully, I passed (barely!) but I was so ticked. But, I didn’t have to wait around long for the test or to get my new license!

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  28. Dexter said on October 13, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Thirty years ago we got Easter Monday off as well as Good Friday, pretty standard back then. We also got our birthday off …but we also got our post-birthday off , too. That was the day 30 days past your birthday. After a few years we qualified for the full vacation package, 28 work days, all paid in a lump sum in June…take the time off any time it was convenient. We also shut down all through the year-ending holidays, all paid days.
    Well, the post birthday went first, then all the rest of it, including the vacation package. Now they get a few major holidays off and they vacation on their own time when the bosses tell them to. The whole thing parallels the decline of the UAW around where I worked. They make about what I made 20 years ago. I do not regret taking an early retirement.
    Columbus Day was never a player in the auto industry as far as I know. Veterans Day was the worst day, as we vets wallowed in self-pity as the fed workers got off with pay and we were breaking our backs slinging iron in the hell-hole, no day off for the vets on the private industry work floor.
    When we had an influx of African American workers from Toledo and Chicago and other urban areas in the early 1990’s, a new phenomenon was observed: Almost all the African Americans just blew off work on MLK Day. Our local Af. Ams. (from Ft. Wayne) never did this…and since the evening shift in my department was about 80% Black, the company should have just shut down operations that day. No , they did not.

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  29. beb said on October 13, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    It’s worth noting that Frwench workers get a lot more vacation and holidays than American workers and their country doesn’t seem to have gone down the drain.

    Also French workers don’t have to worry about their adult children being able to get health insurance since the whole ocuntry gets government coverage. No one is left out.

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  30. Joe Kobiela said on October 13, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    If you don’t mind me asking, where did you work?
    My self, I was a Dana FWA vet.
    Pilot Joe

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  31. Linda said on October 13, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    I worked in Tennessee in the 1980s, but everyone told me that back in the 1970s, Memorial Day was NEVER off, because it was considered a “yankee holiday.”

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  32. Rana said on October 13, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Every encounter I’ve had with the Indiana BMV has been astonishingly pleasant – which was an outright shock after my years of fighting with the California DMV, which even with an appointment tends to feel like visiting one of the outer circles of hell.

    I’m a state employee, at least on a part-time level, by dint of working for the state university system. We did not have yesterday off (which is probably good, because my once-a-week class meets then, and was already screwed earlier in the semester when we had Monday off for Labor Day). No benefits, meager income – the only way they could pay me less would be to not hire me in the first place.

    One thing I find interesting in the discussions about things like benefits and vacations accruing to civic employees is this: the conversation almost always goes along the lines of “We don’t have those things – why should they?” instead of “They have those things – why don’t we?”

    I don’t want government employees losing their benefits, vacations, or salaries to make them equal to employees in the private sector – I want the equalization to come in the form of raising everyone up, not tearing people down.

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  33. MichaelG said on October 13, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    You’ve got it, Rana. It’s not that person A is making too much money, it’s that person B is not making enough.

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  34. Deborah said on October 13, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    When my purse was stolen I had to get a duplicate drivers license, in Chicago. I got my Illinois license originally, down-state to avoid a major headache in the city. Well, imagine my surprise when it only took 12 minutes for me to get the darn thing. and this was in the Illinois State building on Randolph and Clark in the loop. I was astounded. On the other hand it took me 2 days to get a new phone from Verizon to replace my stolen one. So much for public vs private. Of course in the end I got everything back as my purse was found and returned to me.

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  35. Jolene said on October 13, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Many government functions are, of course, routine transactions, so there are big benefits to be gained from effective use of information technology. My impression is that lots of state and local governments have gotten a lot of mileage out of putting these routine transactions online and/or creating customized systems that people in government offices can use.

    On another topic, lots of good things on PBS this week. Just in case you haven’t checked your local listings, here are some of the possibilities:

    Hubble’s Amazing Rescue, the story of repairing the Hubble telescope in space this past summer on Nova

    Obama’s War on Frontline, an analysis of the current situation in Afghanistan, reviewed in today’s WaPo by Hank Stuever

    Tomorrow night
    How Sweet the Sound, a profile of Joan Baez on American Masters

    Thursday night
    Herb and Dorothy, the story of a couple–one a librarian and one a postal worker–who built a fabulous art collection and then gave it all away, on Independent Lens. Described as “highly recommended” in the email I get from my local station.

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  36. Dexter said on October 13, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Dana/Auburn, Pilot Joe, until 1997 when it was sold to Eaton. I had 25 years with Dana and 5 with Eaton.
    Maybe you know a man named Wally G. He was a machinist with Dana and then was hired as an executive pilot for the corporation.
    My daughter’s bf worked for UPS, loading trucks with a forklift , while training to be a pilot. He made all the right career moves and is now a captain with a lot of seniority with NetJets. Sometimes his FO is a former 767 pilot with United who was downsized and hooked on with NetJets.

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  37. Joe Kobiela said on October 13, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Thats kinda where I figured you worked. I knew of Wally G but didn’t know him. The old man started sweeping floors at Dana Auburn in 1947 at age 17, (changed his birth certificate) ended up a time study engineer at Fort Wayne and was plant manager for a while. Not bad for no college. I knew Carl Andrews and am good friends with his son Mark. Charlie Mansfield married my dads sister, you probably remember him, and I went to high school with Terry Diedrich.
    Small world.
    Pilot Joe

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  38. basset said on October 14, 2009 at 12:27 am

    >>back in the 1970s, Memo­r­ial Day was NEVER off, because it was con­sid­ered a “yan­kee holiday.”

    I watched a Mississippi state legislator say that in the statehouse back in the early 80s… as he was reaming someone out for complaining about having to come to a hearing on Memorial Day.

    Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s birthday were state holidays, though.

    meanwhile… here in our part of Tennessee us city workers didn’t get this Monday off.

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  39. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on October 14, 2009 at 12:39 am

    Our number of walkers http://www.newark.osu.edu/earthworks/Pages/WWTA.aspx keeps growing, even as the weather forecasts get worse for the end of the week. If any of you are in central Ohio and are looking for a great free program that costs nothing for amazing speakers and fascinating local learning with national experts (did i mention it was free?), you can find all the good links through the above or the “Newark Earthworks” click on the http://www.archaeology.org homepage.

    Last night’s program addressed Columbus Day. Let’s just say our South Dakota Sioux walkers were remarkably philosophical about poor old Chris, while the Anglos among us tended to be the most aggravated about the “holiday.”

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  40. moe99 said on October 14, 2009 at 1:48 am


    The fun theory. This is just great!

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  41. kayak woman said on October 14, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Late comment but I liked what Rana said about trying to raise people up to better compensation and benefits. My husband and I spent Columbus Day flying back to Michigan after a long weekend in San Francisco. As a federal employee, he had a paid holiday. I used a vacation day. He has been a fed (computer scientist, EPA) for many years, loves his career, and works well over and above 40 hours most weeks. As a taxpayer, I’d like to think I’m getting my money’s worth 😉

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