Business

Tuesday, Jul 03 2012 04:52 PM

Midweek holiday means mix of vacation options

BY REBECCA KHEEL Californian staff writer rkheel@bakersfield.com

For Ron Blaauw, the Fourth of July is all about family.

That's why he tries to take at least that day off from work every year. This year, he's taking the whole week of the Fourth off. Plus, he tacked on the following week for a last-minute family trip to Hawaii.

"It doesn't matter if the holiday's in the middle of the week or not," said Blaauw, 55, a field services engineer for a power company. "I just have to request it off ahead of time."

Blaauw represents one end of the spectrum of Bakersfield employees during Independence Day week: those who are taking extra days off despite the holiday falling on Wednesday.

With Fourth of July falling smack in the middle of week for the first time in five years, employees who want to take extra vacation days are left with the conundrum of when: the whole week, the Monday and Tuesday before or the Thursday and Friday after the holiday. The answer, said employers and employees, seems to be either some mix of those options or none of the above. This means productivity is not affected or affected very little, employers said.

AAA recently projected that 42.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for an Independence Day vacation. Of that, 54 percent planned to start their holiday the weekend before July Fourth.

California law does not require businesses to give employees time off during holidays or pay those who work on holidays any special rate. Still, many businesses close on federal holidays such as July Fourth, and some pay overtime for those who need or volunteer to work.

For example, Kern County Superintendent of Schools closes all its offices for the Fourth. Managers can choose to still work, said Steve Sanders, KCSOS chief of staff. But they would not be paid overtime.

Most employees at KCSOS are choosing to only take off the day they are given Wednesday, Sanders said. On years the Fourth falls on Tuesday or Thursday, many more people will take off the Monday before or the Friday after, he said.

"There's definitely some employees that take extra time off," Sanders said. "But with the holiday in the middle of week, there's less of an impact."

State Farm Insurance, which has an operations center in Bakersfield, has about the same number of employees taking extra time off this year compared with previous years, said Sevag Sarkissian, a spokesman for State Farm. Of those, he said it's mixed between taking the two days prior to the holiday off or taking the two after.

"A lot of people like to take advantage of the holiday and tack on extra vacation days," he said.

No matter how many employees choose to take extra vacation days, State Farm plans ahead and tracks trends to prevent business from being affected, Sarkissian said. Individual offices decide which associates will work over the holiday so that customer service does not sag, he said. Those employees who do work get extra pay or a makeup day off later.

Employees across the city in various jobs, too, had mixed plans for the holiday.

Martin Medina, 43, took off Monday and Tuesday in addition to the day his work gives off Wednesday. Medina is a supervisor for a chemical company. He chose to use his vacation days in the beginning of the week instead of the end because he needs to turn in his employees' timecards to his bosses by Friday, he said.

His days off haven't been much of a rest, though. Only one of the workers he supervises also took off. So on Monday, he fielded calls from employees from 8 a.m. onward, he said. On Tuesday, he tried to avoid the calls as he spent time with his family at Valley Plaza Mall.

"It's weird when the holiday falls on the middle of the week," he said.

It's the fact that it's hard for business to stop in the middle of the week that has Hugo Carrillo, 35, working the whole week. Carrillo described himself as an entrepreneur with multiple business ventures. Even on Wednesday, Carrillo only planned to take a half day off.

And then there's the other end of the spectrum -- those who use the holiday as a means to take a much longer vacation, like Blaauw, the engineer taking two weeks off.

Showing his son a proper Fourth of July is his top priority, Blaauw said.

"My son's still small," Blaauw said. "Work is important, but it's more important to take off and be there with him to celebrate and set off the fireworks."

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