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Seattle-Area County Backtracks on Decision to Make Juneteenth Paid Holiday, Wants to Reconsider ‘The Costs,’ ‘The Tradeoffs’

The Metropolitan King County Council in Washington state has reversed course on history-making legislation after previously voting to make Juneteenth a paid holiday in the county. Seattle is the county seat of King County.

Last month the county council committee advanced legislation that would make Juneteenth an official paid holiday by voting 5-1 to add the historic day to the county’s list of paid holidays. Now several council members, including council Chair Claudia Balducci, have voted to send the legislation back to a committee it had previously been moved out of.

Balducci and council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles said more research is needed before the legislation can be advanced.

Metropolitan King County Council in Washington state. King County Councilmembers (from left): Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott (District 8), Kathy Lambert (District 3), Girmay Zahilay (District 2), Council Chair Claudia Balducci (District 6), Dave Upthegrove (District 5), Jeanne Kohl-Welles (District 4), Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn (District 9), Pete von Reichbauer (District 7), and Rod Dembowski (District 1). Photo credit: KingCounty.Gov

The legislation, which would give 15,000 county employees the day off work to recognize the day some of the last enslaved people in the former Confederacy learned they were free, initially gained support during the nation’s reckoning with racism in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued two years prior, some slaves in Texas did not gain freedom until Union soldiers brought the news to Texas on June 19, 1865.

Balducci expressed concerns over the logistics of making the day a holiday, and about the economic consequences.

“It hung on my mind for the entirety of break because we’re just not really, fully, I don’t think we’ve given it full consideration as to how to could be implemented, the costs, the labor implications, the tradeoffs, the things that won’t get done or that might happen if we charge ahead without thinking it through,” she said.

Kohl-Welles said she still supports the legislation but believes further discussion is needed.

If Juneteenth becomes a paid holiday, the county projects that it would cost $4.8 million per year, primarily in overtime pay for those who cannot take the day off. In addition the county would lose $6.3 million in productivity as a result of the day off.

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, is recognized by most states although it is not an official national holiday. Only Texas, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania recognize the day as an official paid holiday.

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