Normal day at office, even with many gone


Trains were packed yesterday morning with people bound for the Million Man March in Washington, causing some inconvenience for commuters, but employee absences caused little disruption in the region's workplaces.

Most businesses gave employees who wanted to attend the march the option of taking vacation days or personal leave time. Few companies reported large numbers of employees deciding to take the day off and, for the most part, said operations were normal.

Bell Atlantic was typical.

"One of my employees asked me for a day and I was happy to oblige," said Shannon Fioravanti, a spokeswoman for Bell Atlantic Maryland. "It is business as usual around here. There has been no change in the operations whatsoever."

Baltimore's experience was mirrored in many other cities. One of the notable exceptions was Philadelphia, where bus service for public school students was canceled because so many drivers were going to the march. In Camden, N.J., schools closed after many employees asked to take the day off.

In Baltimore's public schools yesterday, attendance was reported at 63 percent for children, 82 percent for staff. School officials said they could determine the reason for the absences. Students in the city schools, as well as in several suburban school districts, were allowed to take the day as an excused absence, if they returned today with a note signed by a parent or guardian.

Howard County schools said they experienced some shortages in bus drivers and custodians yesterday. One bus contractor couldn't find a substitute driver, forcing one bus to cover two routes, said spokeswoman Patti Caplan. Several schools also were short a custodian or two, but the school system shifted employees to cover the shortages.

At Morgan State University, where students could miss class without penalty to attend the march, it appeared that many had exercised that option. Students paid for 14 buses to take them to the march, according to a university spokesman.

Many who chose not to attend the march also chose not to attend classes.

"If I couldn't go to the march, at least I'm going to follow what's going on television and not be a buyer today," said Malcolm Reave, a junior from New York. "This is something we should respect."

City workers, who were allowed to take personal leave to attend, made up perhaps the largest sector of employees represented at the march. Four bus loads of city employees, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, went to Washington yesterday morning.

About 10 percent of the Department of Public Works' 6,000 employees took the day off yesterday, said spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt.

"Six hundred employees off is a very high number," Ms. Pyatt said. On an average Monday, 288 Public Works employees have the day off.

Supervisors shifted people around to compensate for the missing workers. The only noticeable effect was that residential trash collection was finished about an hour and a half later than the normal 3 p.m., Ms. Pyatt said.

Major F. Riddick Jr., chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the highest ranking African-American in Maryland government, made it to the march and still put in a full day of work. Mr. Riddick, a Prince George's County resident, rose at 3:15 a.m. to attend activities in Washington from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. He then went to work in Annapolis for the rest of the day.

"Some people confuse the issue of the messenger versus the message. For me, I tried to stay a little more focused" on the message, said Mr. Riddick, who fasted yesterday as part of a personal focus on atonement.

The Mass Transit Administration reported that approximately 12,000 people used MARC trains to get to the rally. That caused problems for some of the people who regularly commute to Washington on MARC.

Elaine Kodera stood on the platform at BWI's Amtrak station yesterday morning and watched the 6:09 a.m. train, packed full of men heading for the march, speed past without stopping. The 6:34 a.m. train did the same thing.

Frustrated, she and four other commuters tried to obtain an explanation at the ticket booth, but the line was too long. Ms. Kodera, a marketing manager for a county government in Virginia, drove back home to work out of her house.

"Many people don't have that option and they will lose a day's pay," Ms. Kodera said. "I feel that MARC should have made some accommodation for their normal customers."

The Mass Transit Administration added 11 extra trains to take people participating in the rally to Washington, leaving at intervals after midnight, said Anthony Brown, an MTA spokesman. Starting at 3 a.m. and continuing until noon, all the special trains were full. Mr. Brown said the spillover affected the regular commuter trains. Many were full when they left Baltimore's Penn Station.

"We did have some delays associated with our additional service on MARC's Penn line, but we were able to move all of our customers to Washington," Mr. Brown said. "In addition to carrying 12,000 individuals to the march in Washington, we also delivered our regular service to the 350,000 people we serve each day."

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