WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has just signed off on the establishment of an 11th federal holiday. Employees of federal agencies will now observe Juneteenth, as will government officials in a number of states passing similar legislation to recognize June 19 as the date federal enforcement finally put an end to slavery. Public sector employees won’t have to wait long to take advantage of the new holiday.
“As the 19th falls on a Saturday, most federal employees will observe the holiday tomorrow, June 18th,” tweeted the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the resources office of the federal government.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. That was also about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.
“We have come far and we have far to go, but today is a day of celebration,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at Thursday’s signing ceremony.
Juneteenth has long been a paid holiday in Texas, where the observation originated, but several other states have added their own dates. Juneteenth is also a paid holiday for state employees in New York, Virginia and Washington. In Louisiana, a new law designates the third Saturday in June as Juneteenth Day. Gov. John Bel Edwards is shutting down state offices after a half-day this Friday.
The new federal observance will move HR departments in the private sector to evaluate adding another paid day to the calendar. Several major brands have already gotten out ahead of the federal celebration.
NPR reports that retailers like Target and Best Buy are offering time and a half pay for store employees and a paid holiday to their corporate teams in 2021. Corporate employees of Nike and JC Penny will also get the day off, according to multiple outlets.
Forbes reports that a number of tech giants will also be observing the holiday at the corporate level in 2021, including Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Zillow, Cisco, Spotify and Square.
Many more employers may be offering time off or other observances. Several agencies and some companies have already announced plans to begin observing the holiday next year.
Citing a Mercer survey, The Chicago Tribune reports that only about 9% of private employers currently get a paid day off to celebrate Juneteenth, that’s roughly inline with the number that are offered a day for either Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day. Companies responding to the survey offered nine paid holidays on average, according to Mercer.
Juneteenth becomes the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. One of the federal holidays not included in the list of 11 is Inauguration Day, which happens every four years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.