Santa Clara County employees on verge of getting Juneteenth holiday
Nearly 100 people gathered at San Jose City Hall to commemorate Juneteenth, which had a renewed call for action this year. File photo by Luke Johnson.

Juneteenth is one step closer to becoming a holiday for Santa Clara County workers but not before the Board of Supervisors got an earful.

During the course of budget talks addressing a multi-million dollar shortfall Aug. 21, supervisors entertained the idea of making Juneteenth a paid holiday. The sticking point, however, was that it would incur an additional $2.3 million in overtime and set off millions in other potential losses through lost labor and productivity.

Then, a county staffer offered a suggestion: Swap out Juneteenth for Cesar Chavez Day, currently observed in Santa Clara County on March 31.

The idea inflamed members of the public, some of whom interpreted it as pitting the Latinx community against the Black community, and prompted more than a 100 to speak their mind.

June 19, also known as Juneteenth, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day, celebrates the day slaves were freed in the United States.

Cathy Blake, resident of District 4, noted the African American Community Service Agency has been celebrating Juneteenth for more than 30 years. The objective, Blake said, is to educate the public and recognize the African American community.

Resident Cheryl Thompson called in to voice her support for the holiday. “The importance is not just for African Americans, but this is for all people to learn our history and about the freedom we have received,”  she said.

The board received the brunt of much of the public’s consternation, forcing Supervisor Mike Wasserman to set matters straight.

“Nobody on this board said Juneteenth would be in place of Cesar Chavez Day at any time,” Wasserman said. Other board members made it clear they were not interested in pursuing this route.

Added Supervisor Susan Ellenberg: “We certainly don’t want to pit one community against another.”

The board unanimously voted to set aside $2.3 million in the county budget for Juneteenth. It would only be a holiday for county employees — not a general, public holiday. A final vote is expected to take place at the supervisor’s Sept. 1 meeting.

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @MadelynGReese

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