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Juneteenth To Become A Holiday For Cuyahoga County Workers

Cuyahoga County Council on Tuesday passed legislation elevating Juneteenth to a paid holiday for county workers. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
A Cuyahoga County flag flies outside the county administration building in Downtown Cleveland

Cuyahoga County will add Juneteenth to the list of paid holidays for county workers and grant employees paid time off to work at the polls on Election Day.

County Council passed the measure on a party-line vote Tuesday afternoon, with all eight Democrats in favor and all three Republicans opposed. The addition of Juneteenth brings the total number of paid county holidays up to 12.

The June 19 holiday commemorates the 1865 arrival of Union troops to Galveston, Texas, bearing the news that people previously enslaved there were free.

The county’s acknowledgement of the date would “honor those who have been treated inhumanely for centuries,” said Democratic County Councilwoman Shontel Brown, a cosponsor of the measure.

“I just want to remind folks kind of how we got here, especially as we come upon the anniversary of the tragic killing of George Floyd,” she said. “I think it is important that we remember that Juneteenth is not new to many of us who are Black. It is a day that I and others respectfully and humbly reverence, as Black people.”

Two Republican council members – Jack Schron and Nan Baker – proposed an alternative: turning the day after Thanksgiving into a floating holiday, allowing workers to take it any day of the year. That way, county workers could take off a day of personal significance to them without affecting county services, Baker argued.

“If I was given the choice of a floating holiday, day off, I would choose Sept. 11,” she said. “Some of us knew someone that died on that day, or knew someone in our community that died, including our brave men and women in our safety forces.”  

A third Republican, Michael Gallagher, said he couldn’t support giving county workers a day off that most county taxpayers don’t have off.

The second part of the measure passed by council would allow county employees who are Cuyahoga County voters to take time off to serve as poll workers for the county board of elections.

Employees would need a supervisor’s permission first, and could take that time to staff the polls in special elections, primaries or general elections.

Council President Pernel Jones Jr., a Democrat, originally proposed Election Day as a new county employee holiday during a committee hearing in April.

After the county negotiated the June 19 holiday into a union contract, Jones proposed the compromise legislation creating a Juneteenth holiday and a day for poll working, he said last week. Allowing some employees a day off on Juneteenth and some a day off on Election Day would have been difficult to administer, he said.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.