Orange opts to make Juneteenth paid holiday this year

  • Orange Town Hall at 6 Prospect St. Staff File Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 5/6/2021 4:55:20 PM

ORANGE — The Selectboard voted unanimously to make June 19 a paid holiday for Orange’s hourly workers this year, and the town expects to approach the union during contract negotiations to pitch the idea of trading another holiday for it or accepting a floating holiday so there are only 13 paid holidays in a year.

Members fully supported paying employees for working June 19, but were hesitant to permanently add a 14th paid holiday to the town’s budget.

June 19 — also known as Juneteenth, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day — is considered the oldest known celebration commemorating slavery’s end in the United States. It marks the day in 1865 that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed enslaved people that the Civil War had ended and they were free.

Last year, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker designated Juneteenth Independence Day as a state holiday, signing the measure as part of a supplemental coronavirus spending bill. Former Gov. Deval Patrick had signed a proclamation in 2007 recognizing Juneteenth.

Town Administrator Gabriele Voelker explained Baker’s signature means Orange is required to give town employees a day off from work on June 19, but the Selectboard had to decide whether hourly workers would be paid. She said she has consulted with labor attorney Mirick O’Connell, who recommended Orange make the day a paid holiday.

“Because this is an important subject, across the United States of America, it is honoring all those people who have been enslaved,” Voelker said at Wednesday’s meeting, held via the online video conferencing platform Zoom.

Selectboard Vice Chair Jane Peirce agreed that it is an important holiday “and we need to work it in somehow.”

“I could easily swap Columbus Day for that. I don’t think (Christopher) Columbus was particularly much of a civil rights hero at all,” she said.

There is an increasing push across the nation to stop recognizing Columbus, citing the Italian explorer’s introduction of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to North America and the start of an epidemic of disease, starvation and extermination that devastated the Indigenous peoples.

“That would feel right to me,” Peirce continued. “But I think we ought to look at it that way. I think we ought to hold the line at the number of holidays we offer and find a way to swap one in, or something that is of less importance to us.”

Voelker then clarified that, because the governor has declared June 19 a state holiday, “we have to give it off as a holiday, because we are a government entity.” The only exception is emergency personnel, who work every day of the year.

Selectboard Chair Ryan Mailloux said he believes American society overworks people in general.

“And I think an extra paid day off, I don’t think would hurt the employees or the morale. So I, personally, have no objection to compensating for the day off and not forcing them to use their time off,” he said. “And that’s with the state having already declared it a holiday. I’m not saying (the town) should start creating our own holidays.”

Selectboard Clerk Thomas Smith said he agreed with Mailloux’s position.

“I don’t want to see it not become a paid holiday,” he said. “I feel the same way. I think people work hard enough and, especially with this past year, there’s been a lot of doom and gloom. I totally support it.”

More information about the holiday can be found at Juneteenth.com, a website created in 1996.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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