During the protests that followed the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by a police officer, the managers of Ganse Apothecary in Lancaster said they tried to have an open discussion with employees about issues of racial justice.
Those discussions led to a company-sponsored Juneteenth event last year during which it was announced that, going forward, Juneteenth would be a paid holiday for the apothecary’s nearly 60 employees.
“We just wanted to do something concrete,” said Dan Kohler, the company’s chief operating officer. “It’s something that I’m proud of because … not many companies are recognizing it with a day off for their people, and it’s something we have decided to embrace.”
In June 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth National Independence Day a federal holiday. The holiday gets its name from the day in 1884 that the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that enslaved Black Americans were free. Texas was the last state in the Confederacy to learn that the Civil War had ended and that slavery had been abolished.
But other than banks, some government offices and accounting firms that observe all federal holidays, the new holiday celebrating the emancipation of slaves hasn’t translated into a paid day off for most employees in Lancaster County, or across the United States.
A survey of 1,030 American workers by job-search database Randstad USA found that only 17% of workers have a paid day off this year for Juneteenth. The survey’s findings showed that 63% of workers feel the holiday warrants a day off, which jumped to 82% among Black workers.
A systematic survey hasn’t been done of Lancaster County employers’ Juneteenth policies, but the Lancaster Chamber and the Lancaster Society for Human Resource Management found in informal polling that only a few companies have given employees a day off for the holiday.
Lancaster County and Lancaster city employees don’t have an extra day off this year because of the holiday, but city employees will have the day off next year. Lancaster County Courthouse employees will have the day off because the court is closed while the Lancaster Chamber will also be closed Monday. WGAL and Armstrong World Industries have also given employees an extra paid holiday because of Juneteenth.
Heather Valudes, vice president of the chamber who will become its president and CEO June 27, said the organization observes both Juneteenth and Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a way to “encourage employees to take the days for reflection, volunteerism and education.”
“For the Chamber, observing these holidays and reflecting on them aligns with our organizational values and commitment to valuing diversity, equity, and inclusion in our organization and community,” Values said.
‘The primary six’
While many companies and organizations have expressed support for Juneteenth and issues of racial justice, there are often practical reasons that it hasn’t become a paid day off, explains Leslie Wireback, president of the Lancaster Society for Human Resource Management who owns her own human resources consulting firm, Wireback Consulting.
Many companies only observe what Wireback calls “the primary six” holidays of New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas. That leaves out the federal holidays of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and now Juneteenth.
Unless a business already observed all the federal holidays, Wireback said it was unlikely to add just Juneteenth as an observed holiday, especially if they don’t already observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day, another holiday that celebrates Black achievement.
“There are some businesses that are recognizing (Juneteenth), and that is because the owner made the choice based on a personal decision to add the holiday as it is one of importance to the owner, the company (or) the employees,” Wireback said.
Since June 19 falls on a Sunday this year, banks, some government offices and financial markets will be closed today for their Juneteenth observance. Ganse Apothecary is open today, but employees will be given the Juneteenth holiday on Friday, July 1, creating a four-day Fourth of July weekend. On years when June 19 is during the week, Ganse Apothecary will be closed.
Besides Juneteenth, Ganse Apothecary only observes “the primary six” holidays, but Kohler said it “would consider” adding Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism