NEW YORK — The declaration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is putting pressure on more American businesses to give their workers the day off, speeding a campaign that began last year in reaction to nationwide racial justice rallies.
Hundreds of Fortune 500 businesses committed last year to commemorate Juneteenth in the aftermath of the police shooting of George Floyd and the subsequent national reflection on racism.
However, most private businesses model their holiday calendars after the federal government, which is the country’s major employer. Following the approval of a bipartisan Congressional measure, President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery on Thursday.
According to HellaCreative, a group of Black creative professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area that started a campaign last year to garner business support for making Juneteenth an official holiday, more than 800 organisations have publicly vowed to honour the day. This is roughly double the number of businesses that signed the commitment the previous year.
Patagonia, the outdoor gear company, has announced that all of its stores in the United States would be closed on Saturday, as well as its corporate headquarters. Other retailers, including Target, J.C. Penney, and Best Buy, committed last year to make Juneteenth a paid holiday, despite keeping their stores open. Several big banks have announced that staff would be given a paid floating day off.
Many businesses, on the other hand, had little time to rearrange their holiday schedules. Some companies vowed to provide staff a paid day off on a regular basis or that they would explore adding it to their calendars next year.
Nasdaq said it will keep its U.S. exchange open on Friday and Monday “to ensure a fair and orderly market and to avoid operational risks,” but that it would consult with authorities and firms about its future holiday schedule.
State governments scrambled to respond to the new federal holiday if they hadn’t already done so. Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois stated that all state government offices will be closed on Friday, putting an end to a state statute approved just two days before that would have made June 19 a state holiday the following year.
Despite the fact that official holidays such as Thanksgiving are frequently recognised, private businesses are not obligated to provide any specific day off. However, because many employees are unaware of this, they will likely question why they are not being paid for Juneteenth this year, according to Carolina Valencia, a director in Gartner’s human resource practice.
Valencia anticipates the number of firms providing Juneteenth to increase next year, once employers have had more time to react, in a period of rising employee activism and strong competition for talent.
“Many employees will blame their bosses for refusing to give them the holiday because they don’t realise it’s a difficult process,” Valencia said.
She did say, though, that the devil will be in the details. Juneteenth is unlikely to become a national holiday on par with July 4th or Memorial Day very soon, as many businesses will likely provide it as a floating day off.
Many well-known firms have yet to join the initiative. In an email to The Associated Press, Walmart, which employs 300,000 Black hourly workers and is the country’s largest private-sector employer, said that its employees are allowed to utilise paid time off to commemorate whatever holiday they choose, including Juneteenth.
Raheem Thompson, a social media specialist at a retailer, expressed disappointment that he was not given a paid day off. He claims the firm instead sent an email noting the federal holiday and promising to consider time off in the future.
Thompson, who resides in Atlanta but didn’t want his company’s name mentioned for fear of penalties, said, “It’s sort of the bare minimum.” “I don’t think it matters to us as people of colour that you recognise it by email… that doesn’t really signify anything.”
Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19, 1865, two months after the Confederacy surrendered, when Union forces delivered the word of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas. It was also roughly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation emancipated slaves in the Southern states.
Juneteenth has traditionally been commemorated by black Americans, particularly in Texas, with church picnics and speeches. However, it was brought to the notice of some Americans for the first time by the official holiday proclamation.
Jamie Hickey, the proprietor of a small fitness firm in Philadelphia, had never heard of Juneteenth before hearing about it on the radio last week. Then, at lunch, his four trainers began discussing it, and he inquired as to whether it was essential to them. Since it was too late to cancel on clients this year, he resolved to make it a day off next year.
“They asked, ‘Are you serious, you’re only now hearing about this?'” said Hickey, who established Truism Fitness last year after the chain fitness firm where he and his colleagues worked shuttered because of the epidemic.
Hickey explained that he followed his employees’ lead because, as a white guy, he was concerned about being accused of tokenism if he followed trends.
“I don’t want to be a phoney. “If you’re a liar, you’ll get discovered, and it’ll be a million times worse,” Hickey explained.
Even the most senior workers are concerned about this, according to Erin Eve, CEO of Ichor Strategies, a firm that helps companies engage with their communities. If corporations do things like observe Juneteenth without investing in Black neighbourhoods or looking at their own internal diversity, Eve believes they will be called out by their workers, customers, and even investors.
Nonetheless, Eve believes that making Juneteenth a government holiday will make firms that don’t follow suit seem terrible.
“It will confirm a contradiction with their beliefs for present workers,” Eve remarked.