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Fargo mayor wants MLK Jr. Day to be paid holiday for city workers

Dr. Timothy Mahoney officially announces his candidacy for Fargo Mayor during a press conference Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, at the Dr. James Carlson Library.Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO – City leaders here recently proclaimed Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday for the first time but didn't say city employees would get the day off, which would put it on par with other holidays.

Mayor Tim Mahoney is hoping to fix that Monday by asking the commission to change city policy.

"We do other programs that day that the city sponsors," he said of the city's longtime participation in events honoring the late civil rights leader. "To me, you're not really allowing people to celebrate the day to think about things. With a lot of stuff going on around the country right now, we think it's pretty important to honor these things."

He said he meant protests that highlighted unfair treatment of black people by police in some areas and concerns about refugees from the Middle East.

Also, not having the day off can cause problems for some city workers, Mahoney said. Federal and state governments in the region, as well as the schools, already close for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. So employees who have children in school, for instance, have to arrange for child care that day.

Fargo city employees now get nine holidays off, the same as their counterparts in West Fargo, who also do not have the day off for the King holiday.

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said there hasn't been any discussion about instituting a day off for city workers there on MLK Jr. Day, which is observed on the third Monday in January to fall close to King's Jan. 15 birthday.

"To be honest with you, it's never come up. I'm open to talking about it, certainly," Mattern said.

State employees in North Dakota and Minnesota have 10 days off, including MLK Jr. Day. Local governments in Minnesota, such as the city of Moorhead, get at least nine days off, including the King holiday, and may pick an extra day from Columbus Day or the Friday after Thanksgiving.

After first being proposed as a federal holiday in the late 1970s, the first national observance of MLK Kr. Day as a holiday was in 1986. At that time, 17 states had similar holidays. By the end of the decade, nearly every state had established the holiday, according to The King Center, a nonprofit established by the prominent civil rights leader's wife in the wake of his 1968 assassination. New Hampshire was the final holdout, adopting MLK Jr. Day in legislation passed in 1999, according to The King Center.

Though common for government workers, a paid holiday to honor King's legacy is far more rare in the private sector. A survey of more than 600 businesses conducted by Bloomberg BNA found that in 2014, only 35 percent of responding employers gave workers the day off.

Fargo city commissioners had voted unanimously on Dec. 7 to declare the third Monday in January MLK Jr. Day, but it was a proclamation that made no mention of giving city employees the day off.

The proclamation, submitted by the Human Relations Commission, said the city created the Human Relations Award in 2002 to give out on the King holiday, and it encourages "all people to celebrate Dr. King's memory by continuing to work for the dignity and humanity of every person."

Commissioners expressed surprise then that they and their predecessors never got around to making MLK Jr. Day an official holiday.

Current Fargo city holidays are New Year's Day, Presidents' Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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