On Oct. 19, members of the college staff received a survey asking for their opinion on making Juneteenth a paid holiday. This comes as protestors continue to occupy City Hall in Kansas City.
Juneteenth or June 19 is a celebration of the end of slavery, at least as far as the Thirteenth Amendment will allow. While Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 to be put into effect in 1863, the Civil War didn’t end until two years later, and even after Texas slaveowners continued the practice for another two months. Finally, on June 19, 1865, enslaved Americans living in Texas were freed.
Following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, protests began across the country and calls for Juneteenth to be acknowledged as a holiday have increased significantly. Adobe, J.C. Penny, and Nike have all made Juneteenth a paid holiday as well as many other companies. Virginia and New York have made Juneteenth a statewide holiday as Democratic senators have pushed to make it a federal holiday.
Angeliina Lawson, a member of the college’s, attempted to make Juneteenth a paid holiday this past June.
“I saw Twitter, Nike, Kansas City Chiefs, just all these businesses really coming out in support,” Lawson said. “I also saw community colleges come out and they were just passing these policies pretty quickly, and it didn’t seem like that much of an issue.”
Lawson’s motion to add a Juneteenth vote to the following night’s agenda was met with a negative response from other members of the board. Amendments were added to push back the vote to June of next year and to hand control over to the HR Commitee.
“When they said to put it to a task force, I thought they’re going to kill it,” Lawson said. “The president has kept me informed, but in the boardrooms, I don’t hear much about what’s going on with this task force.”
The HR Committee has since turned over responsibility to the paid holiday taskforce, of which Jerry Zimmerman and Tai Edwards are both members of.
“After that board meeting, the HR committee was charged with creating a second committee or a task force that would investigate Juneteenth as a holiday and make a recommendation,” Edwards said. “We’ve had meetings, we’ve had town halls, virtually of course, and we’ve solicited feedback from our colleagues; and we used that feedback to write the survey.”
The taskforce has also been looking into the other paid holidays that the college currently recognizes.
“When you look at the task force, what we were charged with, it was specifically to look at whether Juneteenth should be a holiday, and then generally to look at all of the holidays that the college currently provides to its employees,” Zimmerman said. “But Juneteenth was paramount on what we were charged with looking into.”
During the June meeting members of the board of trustees expressed concern they weren’t given the time to consider the potential costs associated with adding an additional paid holiday.
“Paid holidays actually don’t have a cost, for the most part. Your duties don’t change as an employee, so you are still expected to complete the same amount of work,” Edwards said. “You can actually argue that the employee bears more burden of doing more work in an abbreviated period of time. Depending on how campus closure works, I think you could argue there might be sustainability savings, if you’re not using the heat and the cooling and the lights and all those sorts of things.”
“To be fair, there’s a loss of productivity of one day,” Zimmerman said. “There’s no dollar and cents costs…but there is a loss of four to eight hours, depending on whether they full-time or part-time if we take that day off. That’ll be factored in what the HR committee represents back to the board of trustees and will be part of that discussion.”
The deadline for the survey was Oct. 26.
“We’ll get the information back from the survey next week and endeavor to put a recommendation together so that we can get it to the HR committee in December, which means ultimately that it could be considered by the full board of trustees in the December meeting,” Zimmerman said.
The college’s official mission is to “transform lives and strengthen communities”.
“We can’t just be mouthing these terms as if it means something, we can only have meaning to what we put words to with action,” Lawson said. “[Making] Juneteenth a paid holiday would actually solidify the action that we take and justify the direction that we’re going with DEI, as well as the new strategic initiatives, so it’s a part of how we get there that I’m hopeful to be able to vote on it.”
By Jason Yearout