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For Many, Monday Is a Do-It-Yourself 3rd of July Holiday

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Officially, Monday is just a regular day, business as usual. But wedged as it is between Sunday and the Tuesday holiday, Monday has become part of a de facto four-day weekend.

A survey conducted last fall indicated that only a fourth of the state’s companies would call July 3 a paid holiday this year. But as a mushrooming number of workers decided to take the day off anyway, more companies opted to shut down, said Juan Garcia, research director for Employers Group, a Los Angeles human resources association.

“I think it’s just practical business,” Garcia said. “A lot of employees aren’t going to be overly productive on Monday.”

Now, Garcia estimates that at least half of companies will close July 3. But that does not mean a generosity virus is on the loose. Where Monday is not a paid holiday, workers are for the most part using a personal or vacation day to get the mini-vacation.

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Many, such as store clerks, waiters and dishwashers, won’t get a break. And those without benefits who must take Monday off will effectively be robbed of a day’s pay. But for hundreds of others, a free Monday is a godsend, another opportunity to crank up the barbecue.

Because July 3 is not an official government holiday, city, county and even public school employees have been scrambling vacation schedules to piece together four-day weekends with the odd Monday in the middle.

“It’s going to be a ghost town around here,” said Maria Martinez with the Santa Ana clerk’s office. Though the city will be open and a few staffers will be on duty, Martinez is one of the lucky ones. Sort of. Tuesday is her birthday.

“I’m going to be the big 4-0,” she said. “I thought I deserved” Monday off.

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Personal Days a Growing Trend

Experts say it is easier for employers to be flexible these days because more of them now give workers personal days to take at their discretion. In fact, twice as many companies are giving workers three or more floating holidays in 2000 than in 1996, according the Employers Group.

Further, a growing number of companies now offer a “pool of time” off, rather than a set amount for vacation or sick days, said Tom Grass with the Irvine office of Watson Wyatt Worldwide, an international management consulting firm.

“I think employers are generally becoming more flexible with their employees,” Grass said. “I think that sometimes employees are demanding it.”

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Barbara Brown, assistant to Board of Supervisors Chairman Chuck Smith, will be the one holding down her office. “You’re speaking to the loser,” she said.

She has plenty of company.

Just a few Capistrano Unified School District employees have requested the day off, and the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District will be open.

Workdays like Monday are often used as a bargaining tool in union contracts, said Linda Sanchez-Valentine with the Orange County Central Labor Council. A few unions scored the extra day off, but others, like people with the local Office and Professional Employees’ International Union, are expected to show up to work.

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Business experts say many managers try to be flexible. After all, with unemployment rates at record lows, nobody wants to look like Scrooge. That was evident as the holiday approached and companies began calling one another to compare plans.

Epicore Software in Irvine, which will be closed Monday, found that 60% of the high technology companies it surveyed were also planning to shut down.

For some, it seems to have been a tough call. Irvine law firm Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison told employees just six days in advance that they would be off Monday. But one worker, who asked not to be identified, said the edict did not change her plans because she had already scratched Monday off the calendar.

“I had planned to take a vacation day, are you kidding?” she said.

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If the Huntington Executive Park in Huntington Beach is an indicator, Orange County’s golf courses should be full Monday. About half of the 87 tenants--including nine out of 10 chiropractors and dentists--will be gone, said property manager Patty Harper, who has been polling them. But the more than 20 psychologists and psychiatrists will be working. “What does that tell you?” she said.

Most Orange County surf-wear companies--where employees may vanish anyway when the surf’s up--will close Monday. But Rusty Apparel will not. The Irvine company is not one to veer off schedule, an employee said.

“We were hoping, but it wasn’t that big of a surprise that we didn’t get it off,” said the worker, who declined to give her name. When she learned that rivals brands Billabong, Gotcha, Hurley and Quiksilver are all closing Monday, she was “bummed.”

“Ooh, that’s depressing,” she said. “That makes morale go low. It’s like, ‘Oh, man.’ ”

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Some Firms Decide to Take Day Off

Others have been pleasantly surprised, including Sandy Davis, membership services director for the Orange County Business Council, which decided in January to give its 30 workers the day off July 3.

“It’ll just be a nice day of rest and relaxation,” Davis said, “maybe some time to get together with family.”

An extra day off will be especially welcome to some Mexican citizens living in California, as many of them are expected to head south of the border this weekend to cast votes in a neck-and-neck presidential election. Candidates have used TV spots, direct mail, newspaper advertisements and even Internet pitches to woo voters south for Election Day on Sunday.

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Still, some people would rather be working. Employees of temporary agencies, for example, are being forced to lose a day’s pay on Monday. They can’t work when the office is closed, said Sonja Petrone with Abacus Staffing in Newport Beach.

“There’s not a one-day job that we can send everyone to,” she said. “They need the money to pay their bills, [but] they’re kind of out of luck.”

There are places where unexpected holidays seldom materialize--the county coroner’s office, for one.

“We don’t get any days off,” Deputy Leslie Meader said, laughing. “We’re here all the time, chained to our desks.”

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