Friday, June 2, 2023

Juneteenth federal holiday doesn’t guarantee (paid) time off in local, state governments

City of Wilmington operated per normal during the Juneteenth federal holiday, as local and state governments aren’t mandated to recognize the holiday. (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C.  — It was business as usual at county and city offices Monday, though banks, the post office and military personnel enjoyed time off for the federal holiday.

State and local governments can choose whether to ratify Juneteenth, the federal holiday signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021. Though officially taking place June 19, Juneteenth was observed Monday, June 20, this year among government entities.

New Hanover County follows the lead of the North Carolina Office of State Human Resources, according to spokesperson Jessica Loeper: “Juneteenth has not been adopted as one of the observed holidays on the State holiday schedule at this time.”

Though in January 2021, New Hanover County changed its policy to include it as a floating holiday.

“This allows employees to take a day of leave,” Loeper detailed, “and was specifically created with [Juneteenth] in mind.”

But if the state added it to its calendar, Loeper said the county would fall in line.

North Carolina currently recognizes 12 holidays a year. Stalled legislation would have to move forward for Juneteenth to become the 13th. 

Last year, Senate Bill 143 was introduced as a formal observance of Juneteenth. It went to the committee on rules and operations as of February 2021 and has remained there since.

Earlier this month, however, Gov. Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 262 to give additional paid holiday to state employees but only those who report to his cabinet. He suggested others “observe Juneteenth as an opportunity to reflect, rejoice, and plan for a brighter future as we continue to address racial injustices in our society.” 

“State employees should have the flexibility to recognize a day of personal significance, such as cultural or religious celebrations,” the order explained. 

It assures full-time, part-time, permanent, probationary, or time-limited employees of the state cabinet or other participating agency would get an additional eight hours of paid time off.

North Carolina isn’t alone in its lack of legislation on Juneteenth; as of press, only 18 states and the District of Columbia recognize it as a paid holiday. Bipartisan think tank the Pew Research Center noted Texas — the state where Juneteenth was born — was the first to honor it in 1980, long before it became a part of the national lexicon.

The holiday started over 150 years ago when Major Gen. Gordon Granger and federal soldiers arrived in Galeveston Island, Texas, to inform slaves they were truly free — two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. The first celebrations began in 1860 as Freedom Day for Black Americans — who celebrate it as their own Independence Day, seeing as the nation’s July 4 holiday was founded in 1776 at a time when slaves were still captive across the nation. 

Other states like Florida, Minnesota and Oklahoma began recognizing Juneteenth in the 1990s, with all 50 states, the last being Hawaii and North Dakota, onboard by 2021.

Local governments don’t necessarily have to await state policy to make their own ordinances in recognition of the holiday, according to the UNC School of Government. Nor do federal or state laws mandate government employers honor paid holidays or offer increased wages for employees that work holidays. 

“Local governments may adopt a policy of paying double time or some other sort of bonus for working a holiday shift if they wish to do so,” it explains.

In Wake County, at the height of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, its board of commissioners and the Raleigh City Council voted to acknowledge June 19 as a paid holiday for government employees, in effect costing the county over half-a-million dollars.

Of the 1,900 employees working for New Hanover, Loeper was unsure how many requested time off this year to observe Juneteenth. She said the county won’t know until it runs payroll for its current pay period.

The county employee handbook states:

“Employees in a regular (benefits-eligible) position year will be  eligible  for  one  (1)  personal  floating  holiday  during each  calendar  year.  The  personal  floating holiday shall only be used for religious, cultural or federal holiday observances which have not otherwise been included on the designated holiday schedule.”

As to whether the City of Wilmington would pivot upon any state action remains unclear. 

“Similar to other federal holidays, like President’s Day or Indigenous People’s Day, the city does not close its offices in observance to minimize service delivery disruptions to our residents,” spokesperson Jennifer Dandron wrote.

Despite being open Monday, both the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County promoted and hosted numerous Juneteenth celebrations last week into the weekend, something that will continue moving forward.

“Through these events, the city aims to educate, celebrate, and reflect on the historic day with the community,” Dandron said. “These types of events are a meaningful part of the city’s equity and inclusion strategy to ensure that all people are valued and share in the same opportunities.”

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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