The Hennepin County Board on Tuesday designated Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, an official county holiday but gave it “floating holiday” status rather than adding a new paid day off for workers.
That means the county’s 8,000 employees will now get a floating holiday instead of having Christmas Eve off. They can use it to take off June 19, Christmas Eve or another day they choose. Hennepin County offices will remain open on June 19.
The board had previously delayed taking a vote because some commissioners balked at the estimated $2 million required to fund another paid holiday, especially given COVID-19 financial challenges and a $40 million budget gap this year.
The measure passed 4-3. Commissioners Irene Fernando, Angela Conley and Marion Greene voted against it.
Conley urged the board to make June 19 a paid holiday to recognize the work of Black Americans in building the nation. The U.S. recognizes July 4 as Independence Day despite the fact that Black people didn’t actually attain freedom in 1776, she said.
“I think what this boils down to is a moral decision,” Conley said.
Commissioner Mike Opat said giving a new paid day off was a “truly misplaced action,” though the board seemed to unanimously support making Juneteenth a holiday.
He said it was too costly, adding that county offices are already closed too often.
“If you think 2021 is going to be tough, you better hang on,” he said.
The board also discussed a different compromise to the original resolution — making it a floating holiday next year because of budget pressures but a paid holiday in 2022.
Commissioner Debbie Goettel, one of the three sponsors of the original measure proposing a paid holiday, said she found that many cities, counties and companies already give employees June 19 off as a paid holiday. Minnesota-based Target, Best Buy and U.S. Bank made the day a company holiday earlier this summer.
Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 on which Texas slaves found out they were free following the end of the Civil War.
Hennepin County employees who qualify for benefits currently receive 11 paid holidays.