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Christmas brings no break for some workers



Published: Thu, December 25, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

Money is one incentive for working on Christmas Day.

McClatchy Newspapers

RALEIGH, N.C. — There’s a good chance Ann Collins will deliver a baby on Christmas. Mickey Buffaloe will sell buckets of popcorn and boxes of candy, just like any other day.

Amanda Gelo won’t be shocked if someone throws up on her.

Most of working America will relax with family or friends on Dec. 25, if not much of the week, a holiday reprieve from the daily grind. Ditto for New Year’s.

But cops, clergy, cooks, convenience store clerks, call-center operators and others will clock in on Christmas, even as most offices, stores, schools and factories sit silent.

Some choose to work for the extra cash, especially during tough economic times. Some enjoy the tradition. Others recognize that certain careers simply never allow 9-to-5 schedules.

“Do you miss being with your family? Absolutely,” said Collins, a physician with Centre Obstetrics & Gynecology in Raleigh for 13 years. “But you knew that was going to be part of the job.”

She rotates “on call” holiday duties with her practice’s other four doctors who deliver babies. Much of her Christmas will likely be spent at Rex Hospital, where new arrivals wear hand-knitted red and white Santa hats in the nursery.

“We have quite a few people who are due around the 25th. I expect we’ll be pretty busy,” she said. “When you’re here, you have to be here 100 percent. It makes you appreciate the years you are at home.”

Her two kids, 10 and 13, don’t like Collins being gone, but are used to her schedule. They’ll open gifts Christmas morning, whether she’s there or not. “I might have to make them wait for a few things,” she said.

If no one is in labor, Collins can usually stay home. “On Christmas, generally no one wants to be there working or as a patient,” she said.

And if a baby comes? “There’s really nothing like being part of a new birth,” she said. “That’s just a miracle.”

With Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Thursdays this year, many employers give workers time off in the middle of the week. Some workers will stretch that one day into two, or five.

Employees at technology companies such as Red Hat, SAS and Cisco Systems will get paid vacations as their offices shut down between Christmas and New Year’s. Even there, a core group remains on call to help customers.

Technology allows non-Christians, entrepreneurs and workaholics to do their jobs from anywhere. And there are just some businesses that are “always on.”

“There are airline flights that day, places open for dinner, people who take care of the elderly,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tracks workplace trends. “You have to get the paper out.”

At WakeMed Hospital’s Raleigh Campus, Amanda Gelo will spend 121‚Ñ2 hours of her Christmas on floor 3B, caring for patients whose heart bypass surgeries couldn’t wait.

“We usually have sicker patients around the holidays,” said Gelo, who joined WakeMed as a nurse three years ago.

She celebrated the holiday with her family in Hickory, N.C., the weekend before. Gelo doesn’t have children yet, so she likes to cover for colleagues with kids — with the hope that someone will return the favor someday.

And she makes more — time and a half. “That’s another incentive,” she admitted.

Money is a factor that drives some restaurants and other small businesses to stay open on Christmas, even in the Bible Belt.

“The business is out there, that’s for sure,” said Fred Huebner, one of North Carolina’s biggest McDonald’s franchisees. “When we’re open on the holidays, we’re usually the only ones. People look at us and remember us as doing something for the community.”

Of the 13 restaurants he runs, he’ll open only one — to attract travelers who need to eat.

As in years past, Huebner plans to pool 20 to 25 employees from all his McDonald’s who volunteer to work — sign-up sheets were posted several weeks in advance. He’ll pay $20 bonuses and give out lapel pins.

“With the way the economic times are, there are loads that want the work,” Huebner said.

The Howell Theatre in Smithfield, N.C., will show movies during the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and reopen on Christmas Day for 7 and 9 p.m. shows. Mickey Buffaloe bought the theater in 1999. It now shows second-run movies for $2.

On Christmas, he expects to be busy. His wife will work, too. Families make a tradition of getting out of the house after opening presents and eating a holiday meal.

“It’s actually a pretty fun night,” he said. “The Christmas rush is over by then, so people are looking to laugh, have a lighter time. It’s a day I don’t mind working.”


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