What is Juneteenth and why is it a national holiday?
The oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S. became a national holiday last week. President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17, creating the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983.
Juneteenth originated in Texas to mark Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger’s announcement on June 19, 1865, at Galveston, that formerly enslaved people were free under the law. This day is a celebration of freedom, but it also serves as a reminder for the country that just as the Emancipation Proclamation did not actually end slavery in 1863, Black Americans’ fight against oppression did not end with freedom from slavery. Instead, these moments mark turning points in a struggle that is ongoing today.
What does the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act really do?
This law doesn’t guarantee a day off for most workers. Though most federal employees got Friday, June 18 off this year (June 19 being a Saturday), and some states (though not California) also made the day a paid holiday for state employees, private employers can choose whether or not to cancel work.
Recognition of Juneteenth as a milestone of national importance is certainly cause for celebration, though advocates recognize it is only a step toward racial justice. Opal Lee, who helped lead the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday and was in attendance as Biden signed the bill, said, “We've got all of these disparities that we've got to address and I mean all of them. While we've got some momentum I hope we can get some of it done.”
What is the role of employment law in effecting change?
While legal action can address only a limited range of racism’s manifestations, it can serve as an important tool against certain forms of race-based harassment and discrimination that employees face at work. For example, a class represented by Bryan Schwartz Law is suing Tesla for the rampant racism its members have experienced as workers in the car manufacturer’s Fremont factory. On April 9 of this year, the court denied Tesla’s motion to end class claims, fueling hopes for the lawsuit’s future.
As an employment law firm, Bryan Schwartz Law is committed to fighting race-based discrimination and harassment in the workplace. If you are experiencing harms of these kinds and are seeking legal assistance, you can reach out to us here.