Virginia & New York Move to Make Juneteenth a State Holiday — Why Many Workers May Soon Get the Day Off

Since last week, a growing list of businesses have announced they will make Juneteenth a paid company holiday — and now, elected officials in Virginia appear to be following suit.

Today, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he will make Juneteenth (June 19) — a day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States — a paid day off for state employees, becoming the second state to do so after Texas. Similarly, Gov. Andrew Cuomo today signed an order making Juneteenth a paid holiday for New York state employees. Both governors plan to work with their state legislatures to codify the day as a permanent state holiday.

Also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth commemorates a specific date: June 19, 1865. On that date, Union soldiers arrived in Galvenston, Texas with news the Civil War had ended and enslaved persons were now free — more than two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation.

Although Juneteenth is not a federal holiday, 47 states and Washington, D.C. recognize the day as either a state holiday or a day of observance. Amid a national conversation regarding race and diversity in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests, the day has taken on increased symbolic significance. As activists push for the date to become nationally observed, numerous companies have announced they will give employees Juneteenth off.

For instance, Nike CEO John Donahoe announced on June 11 that he would make Juneteenth an annual company holiday. In addition, he said the Swoosh will also be offering programming and learning opportunities to all employees on topics specific to racial inequality, from June 19 through July 4, as well as focusing on four key areas to improve race relations internally: representation, professional development, inclusion and belonging and education.

Following suit, Target and JCPenney each announced June 15 that they would give workers a paid day off for Juneteenth. Target will close its headquarters for the day; although stores and distribution centers will remain open, the big-box chain will pay hourly workers for time and a half. JCPenney said that its leaders will this week host “open listening conversations” with their teams on the topic of race relations.

Check back for more updates on companies and states with Juneteenth initiatives.

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