Why Juneteenth is not a holiday (yet) for Cayuga County employees | Politics

Banks and schools were closed. Federal and state offices were not open. But at the Cayuga County Office Building, it was business as usual. 

Juneteenth, the anniversary of when the last enslaved people were freed in Texas, was officially observed on Monday. It became federal and state holidays in 2021. 

But it was not a holiday for Cayuga County employees. In an email obtained by The Citizen, Sheila Smith, the clerk of the Legislature, reminded all employees that Juneteenth is not a county holiday and they should report to work as scheduled. 

The city of Auburn, Harriet Tubman’s final resting place, observed the holiday. Neighboring counties, including Onondaga and Seneca, have designated Juneteenth as a county holiday. 

Cayuga County Legislature Chairman David Gould told The Citizen on Friday that he supports establishing Juneteenth as a county holiday. The decision not to do it this year is more about timing.

The contracts with four different public employee unions are up this year and negotiations will likely begin this summer, he said. He anticipates that adding Juneteenth as a holiday for county employees will be addressed in those talks. 

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“Because it’s a contract negotiation year, (the Legislature) decided to wait and we’ll negotiate it with the unions through the contract,” Gould said, adding that if the Legislature “made it a holiday last year, I’m sure it would’ve stayed that way this year.”

Gould’s predecessor, Legislator Aileen McNabb-Coleman, was the chair from 2020 through 2021. Even though then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo had signed an executive order making Juneteenth a state holiday in October 2020, she said the county did not receive notification about the holiday until a few days before the Juneteenth anniversary. 

She blamed the late notice as the reason why the county did not observe the holiday. 

“Admittedly, there was a lack of time for planning,” McNabb-Coleman said. “From reopening from COVID, the (county Department of Motor Vehicles) was on different hours. All these departments were on different hours. We decided that on short notice, it was too much to handle and figure out.” 

During McNabb-Coleman’s tenure, the county issued a proclamation recognizing Juneteenth. Gould presented a proclamation at Juneteenth festivities over the weekend. 

Legislator Brian Muldrow, the county’s first Black lawmaker, told The Citizen that he has partnered with three other legislators — Gould, Christina Calarco and Chris Petrus — to introduce a resolution that encourages the public employee unions to recognize the holiday. The goal of the resolution is to ensure that Juneteenth is added as a holiday in the final contracts. 

He said the Legislature will vote on the resolution at its full meeting on Tuesday. 

“This, recognizing (Juneteenth) as a holiday in our county allows the Black and Brown people, as well as everybody, to know that the county actually is going to recognize this day as they should and the country should,” he said. 

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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