Workers keep Maryland Day a time for holiday pay

March 25, 1992|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer

It was not a wave of historic appreciation that kept the General Assembly from deleting Maryland Day as a paid holiday this year. It was a wave of state employees that did the trick.

History "had nothing to do with it," observed Bill Bolander, executive director of Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 10,000 state employees. "It's just another benefit state employees have had for many years," one they would not give up without punishing legislators at the ballot box in the fall.

Del. Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's, and Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, each sponsored bills that would have cut the list of paid holidays by three, eliminating pay for Maryland Day, Lincoln's Birthday and Defenders' Day. (A state election day every two years would also have been cut.)

The aim was clearly to save money, but state workers felt they had made enough sacrifices. They have missed pay raises for two years, they have had 3 1/2 hours added to their workweek, and they are now facing three unpaid furlough days.

"Years ago, when the state couldn't afford to give us pay raises, they gave us these days off," said Mr. Bolander.

"Now they want to take these days back and still not give us a pay raise."

Mr. Bolander said his organization made defeat of the bill its highest priority this year, mobilizing its membership to visit legislators and cajole them on the phone. The effort paid off. The bill has already been killed in the Senate and it seems to be terminal in the House as well.

"It looks pretty good," Mr. Bolander said.

For most state employees, Maryland Day is admittedly nothing more than a day off (one they have the option of saving and using later). For many others, it is not even that much.

In the employee cafeteria at the State Office Building in Baltimore yesterday, fewer than half of those questioned could identify exactly what Maryland Day commemorates -- the landing 358 years ago of the Ark and the Dove, which carried Maryland's first settlers from England.

"It's pretty sad, isn't it?" said one young man after he acknowledged that he had no idea what the holiday is about.

Ignorance about Maryland Day is not all that surprising. Schools teach about Maryland's founding, but few apparently observe the holiday other than to make an announcement over the loudspeaker.

In 1632, Cecil Calvert, or Lord Baltimore, received a charter for the territory that would become Maryland from King Charles I of England. The next year, Calvert organized two ships, the Ark and the Dove, to carry more than 200 settlers to his land. Many of the passengers, like Calvert himself, were Catholic, eager to escape the persecution they had known in England.

After an arduous four-month voyage, the ships landed March 25, 1634, on St. Clements Island in the Potomac River near Chesapeake Bay.

Edward Papenfuse, the state archivist, said the settlers should be remembered not only for establishing the new colony but also for their ideals of religious tolerance and liberty.

Those lessons are not over looked by all. Every Maryland Day, a group called the Maryland Colonial Society lays a wreath at the statute of Cecil Calvert outside the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse in Baltimore. The group also each year awards a $200 scholarship to a Maryland student for an essay on the state's history.

Also, the weekend following Maryland Day, the Maryland Historical Society holds a daylong seminar on some aspect of state history. The symposium this year will be about Maryland during World War II.

Appropriately enough, the biggest celebration of all occurs in St. Mary's County, where the first settlement was built. Today, there will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the St. Clements Island-Potomac River Museum.

Then this weekend begins a two-day festival with historic re-creations, music and food.

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