A judge on Friday temporarily suspended enforcement of a mistakenly revived Virginia law that allows employees to demand a "day of rest" on weekends, but representatives of the state's largest businesses urged lawmakers to return to the Capitol to permanently fix their error.
Circuit Court Judge Theodore J. Markow said he was putting the law on hold for 90 days "with great reluctance," pending a review of whether the law violates the U.S. and Virginia constitutions. But he hinted that the review could come much sooner than 90 days.
"My reluctance is, this is really treading on the legislative prerogative," Markow said. "Just because someone says we really didn't mean to do that. . . . We have a process. The legislative process is sacred."
Moments after Markow's comments, a spokesman for Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) urged Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) to call a special session of the General Assembly to revoke the day of rest law.
"Absolutely, the governor should come back and call a special session," said Tim Murtaugh. "This bought us some time, but we're not sure how much."
The law requires employers to grant non-managerial workers a weekend day off or pay fines and triple the worker's salary. The General Assembly resurrected the law from decades of obscurity during the 2004 session by accidentally removing exemptions for most of the state's businesses.
Lawyers for Smithfield Foods, Dominion Virginia Power, International Paper and other large businesses had filed a lawsuit seeking to stop enforcement of the day of rest provision. They praised the judge's decision but said the state needs to go further.
"The gun has sort of been removed from the head and put back in the holster," said Hugh Keogh, president and chief executive of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. "There's no panic. To affect the level of confidence, we may still need a special session."
Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico) and House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said they believe it is necessary to bring all 140 lawmakers back for a one-day session limited to fixing the day of rest law.
"I'd like to have a 20-minute session. Get in there and get out," Howell said.
Stosch added: "We ought to schedule it as soon as we can. The business community deserves to have this resolved."
Warner, who is vacationing in Idaho, declined to join in the call for a special session. In a statement, he left his options open.
"I am pleased that Judge Markow's injunction allows everyone to take a deep breath," Warner said. "We will continue to work with leaders of the legislature and others on this issue."
As news of the legislature's mistake spread across the state, there was evidence that not everyone thought there was a problem. Some employees seemed eager to take advantage of some time off.
Several businesses reported that employees had begun formally requesting weekend days off, in writing, as the law requires. Some companies were flooded with inquiries from their employees about what their rights were, according to union and company officials.
"We are advising our local unions not to exercise this new right because it's pending in the court," said Dan L. LeBlanc, president of the Virginia AFL-CIO.
Katharine Webb, a lobbyist for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, said her group is "getting so many questions about how to handle that. We have a lot of hospitals that don't have labor lawyers."
And Tom Lisk, a lawyer representing the retail merchants across the state and the hospitality industry, said the accidental change in the law was the "hot topic" among many employees.
"Some [businesses] have reported receiving requests, and in many cases inquiries," Lisk said.
The day of rest law allowed people to take Saturdays or Sundays off for religious observances.
Jonathan Larson, an employee of the Bible Factory Outlet in Leesburg, said he and his colleagues at the store would like to have Sundays off to go to church.
"None of us want to work there on Sundays. I believe God has instilled a law in which we should take a rest," he said. "It makes sense that the human body isn't made to work seven days straight."
The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the evangelical Christian who founded Liberty University in Lynchburg, said many church leaders have long since realized that the modern economy is incompatible with laws that close stores or give time off on weekends. "Hospitals, ministries to the poor, newspapers, public utilities must work and must be operated 24-7," he said. "There's no question that most people who can get triple pay or a day at the lake will prefer that over the third alternative -- working for regular pay. But it's totally impractical."
In court papers, attorneys argued that allowing workers to demand Sundays off could interrupt the provision of electricity and virtually shut down meat packing and paper production.
"It is critical that operations at Dominion's electric generation facilities are properly staffed at all times without any interruption," the brief states.
Markow suggested several times that the situation seemed less dire to him than the lawyers were describing. He said workers could require employees to work on the weekends, and then defend themselves against the challenges based on the state law later.
"Where's the irreparable harm?" he asked several times.
Markow also hinted strongly that it is the legislature's job to fix the problem.
"No one that heard the judge missed his point," said Richard Cullen, a former U.S. attorney and one of the lawyers who filed the lawsuit. "The General Assembly needs to come back fairly quickly and fix this once and for all."