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Archive for Thursday, July 8, 2004

Virginia workers clamor to take Sundays off

Day-of-rest’ law mistakenly enacted

July 8, 2004

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— Workers across Virginia have been telling their bosses that they want Sundays off after learning of a legislative mistake that resurrected a "day-of-rest" law for all employees.

Soon after hearing about the new benefit, housekeeping and front-office staff at eight Virginia Beach hotels operated by Professional Hospitality Resources began handing in requests, said Ken Taylor, the company's executive vice president.

"They found the Lord quickly, when it worked," Taylor said wryly.

Supermarkets, manufacturers, restaurants and home-improvement stores have reported similar requests from employees in the past week.

"If it sticks, it will be the answer to my prayers," Eugene Garner, who works at a Home Depot in Richmond.

He said he has asked for Sundays off in the past so he can attend church but he has been forced to share weekend duties with his co-workers.

The "day-of-rest" law was brought to life in the last session of the General Assembly when lawmakers mistakenly deleted exemptions that let most of the state's private businesses assign people to work on their Sabbath. State officials say the error occurred in a bill that repealed obsolete blue laws banning business on Sunday, and no one noticed that it had other results.

Businesses are placing increasing pressure on state officials to reverse the legislative action. Gov. Mark R. Warner is expected to issue a call today for the General Assembly to reconvene next week to fix the mistake, his office said Wednesday.

A coalition of corporations filed a lawsuit last week asking a judge to block enforcement of the day-of-rest law, which took effect July 1. A judge suspended enforcement for 90 days to allow a review of the law.

Businesses can be fined up to $500 for each offense, and a company that forces an employee to work on a day of rest can be forced to pay triple the worker's regular wages.

The mistake could not have come at a worse time for Taylor: the busy summer season, when resort hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions bring in most of their sales.

"We're a seven-day-a-week business," said Taylor, president of the Virginia Beach Hotel & Motel Assn. "We have to be able to perform our business."

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