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Published: Tuesday, 1/20/2009

Many Toledo area workers will mark historic day on their own time

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The world may stop Tuesday to watch the nation's first African-American President be sworn into office, but if workers at a number of northwest Ohio businesses want to do so, they'll do it on their own time.

A check of more than a dozen area businesses Monday revealed no formal plans to shut down operations, grant extended breaks to employees, or even do much of anything unusual to mark today's historic transfer of power.

"At this point, nobody's even made the request," said Frank Viviano, owner of Bartz-Viviano Florists in West Toledo. "If they want to take time off and do it, I suppose that's fine."

At Costco Wholesale at Westgate, manager Bill Koza said employees will be able to watch or listen on their breaks, but nothing formal is planned. "There are televisions in the break rooms, and I'm sure it'll be tuned in, because obviously it's an important event."

Many companies nationwide will allow workers to take a break to watch the swearing-in on TVs or their company computers, while others are making rooms available so staffers can gather. Still others are planning celebrations to mark a historic event, and some owners are giving staffers the day off.

At BlissPR, a New York-based public relations agency, many employees will be in the conference room watching Barack Obama's inauguration on TV. Abby Carr, the firm's managing director, said the company recognizes the historical significance of the day, and that "in moments like this, people want to be in a community."

Some employees are making their own plans to watch the ceremony and inauguration speech on their lunch hours, or at televisions located near their work stations.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime event. It's history," said Jana Zervos, administrative assistant to marketing and communications for Mercy Health Partners, the administrative offices for local hospitals like St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center. "I'm hoping I can get the whole time to sit and watch it, but it's going to depend on what's going on and what needs to be done."

Allowing staffers an opportunity to watch the inauguration but not demanding that they be part of a celebration is smart managing, said human resources consultants and labor lawyers.

Beverly Kaye, an employee retention consultant in Sherman Oaks, Calif., said it can create a lot of goodwill.

"If ever there was a chance for managers and leaders and business owners to use this as a chance to say to your team, 'I appreciate you, I want to bring us closer, I want to share this with you,' this is it," Ms. Kaye said.

At many companies, workers won't be able to watch simply because of the nature of the business. Phones do need to be answered in offices, people shopping in stores do need to be waited on. But some will still be able to catch a glimpse of the proceedings.

Rob Armstrong, a spokesman for Bennett Enterprises, owner of the Ralphie's Sports Eatery restaurants in the Toledo area, said the regional chain's many televisions will be tuned to the inauguration so that customers can watch it, and he's sure his employees will as well.

"When we have special events like that, we put the coverage on the televisions," Mr. Armstrong said. "When the employees are on the floor, they find time to glance at things to know what's going on."

The report includes information from The Blade's news services.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.


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