Federal Employees Named in Debate Over Juneteenth Holiday

One Senator has specifically mentioned federal employees in a proposed compromise to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Update: The Senators said Friday they are withdrawing their original proposal to replace Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Johnson announced his intention to introduce a modified substitute amendment to achieve the same goal should the Senate decide to celebrate Juneteenth Day by giving federal employees another paid day off.

Johnson issued the following statement about his decision to withdraw the amendment and his plans to issue a new proposal to reduce the number of paid leave days federal employees receive:

Although the substitute amendment I offered to the Juneteenth holiday bill had the desired effect of slowing down the passage of a new paid day off for federal workers, many were not happy with the proposal to swap a holiday celebrating emancipation with Columbus Day.

Let me reiterate: I suggested Columbus Day for the swap because few Americans in the private sector get it as a paid holiday, and as a result, it is lightly celebrated, and would not be disruptive to most Americans’ schedules.  I was in no way deprecating Christopher Columbus’ achievements or expressing any value judgment regarding his place in history.  As I stated in an interview with the Milwaukee Press Club last Friday, I do not support efforts to erase America’s rich history — not the good, the bad or the ugly.

Rather than allow another paid day off for federal workers to pass without debate, or even a vote, I wanted to start a discussion, and I did.  In fact, I received a number of very good suggestions. Accordingly, the original amendment is being withdrawn and I am introducing a modified one.

Instead of eliminating a current holiday to make room for Juneteenth Day, I will be proposing to reduce the number of paid leave days federal employees receive, to offset the cost of the new holiday celebrating emancipation. This modification both preserves Columbus Day and the dollars of hard-working taxpayers.

The original story follows below.

One Senator specifically cited federal employees in a proposed compromise to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) filed an amendment to Senate legislation that would make Juneteenth a new federal holiday. The amendment offers a compromise by replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a new federal holiday.

As to federal employees, Johnson cited the federal workforce in a statement describing his reasoning for offering the amendment.

“In response to a bipartisan effort to give federal workers another day of paid leave by designating Juneteenth a federal holiday, we have offered a counterproposal that does not put us further in debt,” said Johnson. “We support celebrating emancipation with a federal holiday, but believe we should eliminate a current holiday in exchange. We chose Columbus Day as a holiday that is lightly celebrated, and least disruptive to Americans’ schedules.”

Johnson also said in a tweet, “My sole motivation for offering this amendment to the Juneteenth bill is to prevent giving federal workers another paid holiday and incurring the additional cost.”

Lankford added, “Juneteenth is a day in our history that redefined the meaning of freedom and equality in America. Throughout our history, we have strived to become a more perfect union and Juneteenth was a huge step in attaining that goal. We should celebrate these strides on the federal level while remaining cognizant of the impact the existing 10 federal holidays have on federal services and local businesses. We can reduce these impacts by replacing Columbus Day as a federal holiday with Juneteenth, America’s second independence day. I’m hopeful the Senate will support this amendment to celebrate this significant day in our nation’s history.”

The Senators noted in a press release about the amendment that only 21 states recognize Columbus Day as a paid holiday.

As to the concern about adding further to the federal debt, they noted that the economic cost of a single federal holiday has been estimated to cost around $600 million for paid time off for federal employees. The press release also cited a watchdog report based on FY 2016 data which calculated that the federal government pays its workforce $524 million per day.

What is “Juneteenth”?

June 19, 1865 marks the day when slavery was officially ended in the United States. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1862 and went into effect January 1, 1863, it wasn’t until Union troops marched into Galveston, Texas and ensured slaves there were freed that slavery was considered officially over.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.