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Business As Usual Or Taking The Day Off: Workplace Recognition Of Juneteenth Varies

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Some workers have today off to observe Juneteenth, the day that celebrates when enslaved people in Texas learned about the Emancipation Proclamation. This week, Congress moved quickly to make it a federal holiday. But federal holidays aren't mandatory in most workplaces. And whether or not people actually get the day off varies widely. NPR's Camila Domonoske reports.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: The federal government declared Juneteenth a holiday on Thursday, and many states quickly followed suit. When Alesia Jones heard the news...

ALESIA JONES: Well, I was excited to hear that. And I'm surprised that it happened so quickly, even more surprised it happened so quickly in the state of Alabama.

DOMONOSKE: But Jones couldn't just be excited. She runs HR at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

JONES: My next thought was, I hope we have the time to figure out how to implement this holiday so that it remains viewed only positively.

DOMONOSKE: And there wasn't enough time for this year. The university and its hospital were open today and they weren't alone. The post office was open. Stock markets were trading. Some courts were open. School districts, well, they were all over the place. Lots of places had to make a snap decision this week. But some companies had already decided to take the day off. Rosa Nunez is the head of diversity, equity and inclusion at the law firm Foley Hoag, which is, in fact, closed today. I interrupted her day off. She said making Juneteenth a paid holiday is more than just a workplace perk.

ROSA NUNEZ: The recognition of the stain of slavery in the United States and the work that needs to be done, I mean, it should be followed by many, many organizations.

DOMONOSKE: Nunez hopes the federal government recognizing the holiday will push even more workplaces to do the same. So maybe next year, Juneteenth will be a day off for many more people.

Camila Domonoske, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.