Elorza signs order declaring Juneteenth a city holiday

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza signed an executive order Tuesday afternoon making Juneteenth a paid holiday for city workers, after an attempt to establish the holiday through the City Council was not immediately approved.

The executive order acknowledges the “cultural and historical significance” of the day, which recognizes the end of American slavery.

Since the June 19 holiday falls on a Saturday this year, city workers will receive a paid day off on Friday. Essential workers who have to work on the holiday will be paid time and a half, according to a copy of the executive order.

“By declaring Juneteenth an official city holiday, we remember the emancipation of slavery and honor the history, perseverance, and achievements of Black Americans,” Elorza said in a statement. “Providence is taking another step towards affirming itself as the inclusive community we all know it to be and we remain committed to working together with the city Council to recognize this holiday in perpetuity.”

The Elorza administration had previously presented the paid holiday proposal to the City Council, but was met with skepticism from members of the Council Finance Committee who questioned the cost of adding another paid holiday.

Some councilors, while acknowledging the importance of the day, suggested replacing another city holiday with Juneteenth to make it cost-neutral, or negotiating the new holiday with the labor unions that represent city workers.

Finance Director Sara Silveria estimated the fiscal impact of providing extra holiday pay to city employees such as police and firefighters who have to work the holiday would be about $303,000.

But city treasurer Jim Lombardi, who is also the council chief of staff, noted the cost would actually be much higher, since the fiscal analysis didn’t include the cost of giving all city workers a paid day off.

The committee voted to continue the matter.

Ben Smith, Elorza’s press secretary, said the administration is still working on a solution with the City Council to recognize the holiday permanently. The executive order will apply just to this year’s holiday.

The Juneteenth holiday, which marks the day in 1865 when the news of the emancipation proclamation reached Galveston, Texas, gained significant attention last year during the social justice movement following the death of George Floyd.

Many companies started providing the day as a paid holiday for workers, and dozens of states also adopted Juneteenth as official or ceremonial holidays. A bill has been introduced in Congress to make it a national holiday.

“Juneteenth serves as a reminder to all Americans about the horrors of slavery, celebrates the
emancipation of all slaves in the United States, and provides a forum for open and honest dialogue around what measures are still needed in order to ensure equality and opportunity for the African-American community,” Elorza’s executive order reads.

Earlier this month ahead of the holiday, local artists painted a large street mural declaring “All Black Lives Matter” in Kennedy Plaza.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

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