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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, April 20, 2014

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In Holiday Guide

The TV news never stops: Anne Schwartz conducts an interview with Milwaukee Police Department's Leslie Thiele for a crime prevention show.

Milwaukeeans work on holidays, too


There are many professions from the service to the health industries that require employees to work on holidays. And there are plenty of people in other jobs, too, that require punching the clock while others are tearing open gifts or eating a big turkey dinner.

For some, this is unfortunate, but others actually enjoy it. OnMilwaukee.com recently tracked down a few people who are working or have worked very different jobs on Thanksgiving, Christmas and / or New Year's Eve.

Anne Schwartz has worked on holidays for most of her adult life, starting in 1988 when she got a job as a beat reporter for print and TV.

"You get the best stories on the police beat on holidays. Some heartbreaking, some heartwarming," says Schwartz. "More often than not, I found a story of incredible holiday generosity on the part of a citizen or a police officer on those days."

Schwartz went on to serve as the communications director for the Milwaukee Police Department for eight years and she was always on call on holidays.

"There was always police news on a holiday – likely because of all those family gatherings with people so close together in a house with cutlery," she jokes.

But in all seriousness, Schwartz says the worst part of working on holidays are the tragedies like deaths of children or officer-involved shootings.

"Sitting in a family's living room making a death notification with the Christmas tree brightly glowing in the corner is a sad and surreal experience," she says. "Calling an officer's spouse to say they were involved in a critical incident is unparalleled."

In 2011, Schwartz, along with other commanders, were called to Froedtert on Christmas Eve when Officer Frank Vrtochnik was struck by a suspected drunken driver and was critically injured.

"We didn't know if he'd make it. We sent a squad to notify his parents. On Christmas Eve. The feeling of being part of that police family was powerful. I miss that a little," she says.

As a single adult and an only child who lost both of her parents a long time ago, Schwartz didn't mind working on the holidays and she actually found comfort and solidarity on the job.

"Newsrooms were a natural place to find like-minded people who loved a good story. The newsroom is absolutely an ad hoc family," says Schwartz. "There was always a big food spread. But if you were the late crew and you got back right on deadline and had to get on the air, you often got the carcass."

Schwartz left the Milwaukee Police Department at the end of 2012 and took a job as a regional communications director for Wells Fargo. Being in the banking industry, she is not longer required to work holidays.

"In fact, Wells Fargo as a company feels very strongly about respecting personal time off and time spent with loved ones," says Schwartz. "The new tradition for me is likely one that is taken for granted by those who don't work holidays. My partner Mark and I were able to spend the day with friends and family. We didn't have to take separate cars. I didn't have to worry that I'd be called away to manage the messaging of a tragedy that befell a family or an officer on a day when the rest of the world is celebrating."

Elaine Alred lives and works in Grafton at Shopko and George Webb and she, too, works on holidays.

"I love working the holidays," she says.

Alred even likes working Black Friday and knows some of the regulars who come every year. This was the first year, however, she did not work at Shopko on Thanksgiving or the day after, Black Friday, because she was working at Webb's.

"It was fun. There were lots of dads bringing in the kids so mom could take care of dinner in peace," says Alred, who is the mother of grown children.

The increase in pay is a nice incentive, but Alred says it's not really about the money. She enjoys interacting with the customers most of all.

"At Shopko we get an extra 50 cents an hour, but at Webb's, I never even asked," she says.

Patty Zastrow-Jankowski works for the local cable company and she always takes holiday shifts. For her, the increase in pay definitely makes the experience more palpable.

"I've worked every holiday you can think of including Christmas and Thanksgiving. It makes for a really great check," she says. "On major holidays, I try to work a four-hour shift and even though I am normally a second shift worker, I will work four hours in the morning to just get it over with. It seems to work pretty well for me."

Zastrow-Jankowski's favorite holiday to work is New Year's Day.

"There is absolutely no traffic Downtown. It's like a ghost town. People are hungover and chilling watching movies and stuff and there's not too much trouble," she says.

In mid-November, Steve Braley left Milwaukee to work in Kansas City until early January. Consequently, Braley, who is a local 601 Steamfitter, will be working and away from home for the holidays.

"We are the craft that welds together large industrial piping, HVAC service and, in my case, calibration of instruments in power plants and refineries. When there is not work in Milwaukee, we have to travel for work," says Braley. "I will work 10-hour days every day until layoff in January."

Braley says it's not easy to be away from his family this time of year.

"It is sad around the holidays not to be with my wife and greyhounds, who are our children," says Braley. "But most companies plan their work around the holidays as to not disrupt their work force. Most of my work lasts four weeks to six months. We find work through the union hall, and for me, it could be anywhere in the country."

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