Thousands of Hennepin County employees are closer to getting paid time off to mark the holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people.
A Hennepin County committee voted unanimously Tuesday to give full holiday status to Juneteenth, a move that comes as the city of Minneapolis considers a similar action.
"This one here is pretty important to Hennepin County as a whole," said Commissioner Angela Conley, who sponsored the designation along with Commissioner Irene Fernando.
In the racial reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd last Memorial Day, public and private employers have begun honoring June 19, which is also known as Freedom Day.
The day also celebrates "the triumphs, culture and achievements of African Americans locally and across the United States," their proposal said.
The vote came in a committee so the decision won't be official until the full board vote next Tuesday. But all seven board members sit on the committee so it is expected to easily pass.
The action comes less than a year after the county declined to give Juneteenth full holiday status. Last August, the board added a new floating holiday, which would have allowed employees to take June 19 off, but removed Christmas Eve as a paid holiday.
With the addition of Juneteenth, the county's 8,000 employees will have 11 declared and one floating holiday. They previously had 10 designated holidays and one floating holiday.
Last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some commissioners balked at the cost of adding a holiday. The county's daily payroll is $2.4 million. But the seven-member board has three new members elected in November who all voted for the Juneteenth holiday.
Debbie Goettel, who voted for the floating holiday last year, voted for full designation. She said she was disappointed the state and federal government hadn't made the day a holiday. If enough counties and cities vote to do so, she said she hopes there's a "groundswell" for state or federal designation.
She didn't mention Floyd by name, but noted that Memorial Day and the anniversary is coming. "I just think it's time we made a real bold statement," she said.
Last year, the board voted 4-3 for the floating holiday. Conley, Fernando and Chairwoman Marion Greene voted against the floating holiday because they wanted Juneteenth to have full status.
Greene noted last summer's vote and said she was "grateful we have the opportunity to re-examine" the decision. While the action doesn't end "systemic oppression," she said it's a piece of the larger puzzle in addressing problems.
Commissioner Chris LaTondresse said Juneteenth needs to be a federal holiday. He acknowledged that the holiday would cause some disruptions to those seeking services from the county, but said the county was right to honor those who fought to steer the country to higher ideals.
Commissioner Jeff Lunde said he supported the proposal but wondered aloud whether the Friday after Thanksgiving should become a floating holiday rather than a designated holiday. The designation of Juneteenth does "open up the question of what is the right mix" of holidays, he said.
"The taxpayers are funding our availability to do this and it does have a cost," he said.
June 19 falls on a Saturday this year so employees will be off and county offices will be closed on Friday, June 18. Minneapolis is expected to vote on a similar proposal for city workers later in May.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747