SOUTHEASTERN NC — All was business as usual at county and city offices Monday, despite banks, the post office and military personnel being off for the federal holiday.
State and local governments can choose to ratify June 16, the federal holiday signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021. Although it officially took place on June 19th, the 16th of June this year was commemorated by government authorities on Monday 20th June.
New Hanover County is following the lead of the North Carolina Office of State Human Resources, according to spokeswoman Jessica Loeper: “June 16 is not currently included in the state holiday schedule as one of the observed holidays.”
In January 2021, New Hanover County changed its policies to include June 16 as a floating holiday.
“This gives employees a day off,” explains Loeper, “and was created specifically for this purpose [Juneteenth] in the head.”
North Carolina officially recognizes 12 public holidays per year. Legislation that has stalled would need to be pushed ahead to add another to the calendar.
Last year Senate Bill 143 was introduced as a formal observance of June 16th. It went to the Rules and Operations Committee as of February 2021 and has remained there ever since.
Earlier this month, however, Gov. Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 262 to grant state employees additional paid leave, but only to those reporting to his cabinet. He suggested others “take June 16th as an opportunity to reflect, rejoice and plan for a better future as we continue to address racial injustices in our society.”
“Government officials should have the flexibility to recognize a day of personal significance, such as B. cultural or religious celebrations,” the order explained.
It provides an additional eight hours of paid time off for full-time, part-time, permanent, probationary, or temporary employees of the State Cabinet or other relevant agency.
North Carolina is not alone in its lack of June 16 laws; only 24 states and the District of Columbia recognize it as a paid vacation. The nonpartisan think tank Pew Research Center noted that Texas — the state where Juneteenth was born — was the first to honor it in 1980, well before it became part of the national lexicon.
The holiday began over 150 years ago when Major General Gordon Granger and federal soldiers arrived on Gaeveston Island, Texas, to tell the slaves they were truly free – two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Celebrations first began in 1860 as Freedom Day for black Americans—who celebrate it as their own Independence Day, since the nation’s holiday was established on July 4, 1776, at a time when slaves were still in captivity across the country.
Other states such as Florida, Minnesota, and Oklahoma began recognizing Juneteenth in the 1990s, with all 50 states, most recently Hawaii and North Dakota, on board by 2021.
Local governments don’t necessarily have to wait for state policy to issue their own ordinances recognizing the holiday, according to the UNC School of Government. Nor does federal or state law require government employers to provide paid vacation time or offer higher wages to workers who work holidays.
“Local governments can implement a policy of double hours or some other type of bonus for working a holiday shift if they wish,” she explains.
In Wake County, at the height of Black Lives Matter in 2020, the Raleigh Board and City Council voted to recognize June 19 as a paid public holiday for government employees, actually costing the county over half a million dollars.
Of the 1,900 employees who work for New Hanover, Loeper wasn’t sure how many requested vacation this year to celebrate June 16. She said the county won’t know until they’ve completed payroll for their current pay period.
The county employee handbook states:
“Employees in a regular (benefit) year of service are entitled to one (1) personal floating vacation in each calendar year. The personal floating holiday may only be used for religious, cultural or state holidays not otherwise included in the established holiday schedule.”
Whether the city of Wilmington would rely on government action remains unclear.
“Similar to other federal holidays, such as President’s Day or Native American Day, the city is not closing its offices to minimize disruption to service delivery to our residents,” spokeswoman Jennifer Dandron wrote.
Although the city was open on Monday, both the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County held numerous celebrations for the 16th anniversary over the past week through the weekend.
“Through these events, the city wants to educate, celebrate and reflect on the historic day with the community,” said Dandron. “These types of events are a meaningful part of the city’s equity and inclusion strategy to ensure all people are valued and have equal opportunities.”
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