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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Juneteenth passage starts conversation about paid time for city labor workers, private companies

Spokane City Hall.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane City Hall. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Sydney Brown The Spokesman-Review

With the passage of Juneteenth as a federal holiday and a number of local events to celebrate this weekend, some employees may wonder if the holiday will apply to them.

The answer? It’s complicated.

President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill Thursday recognizing Juneteenth , but whether nonfederal employees get the day off and whether local governments fully observe holidays like Christmas or Memorial Day takes other decision-making.

Spokane leaders, for instance, haven’t yet decided whether city workers will work the holiday or trash service will be delayed to observe it. It will take more than City Council action. City unions will be involved in the decision, said Brian Coddington, director of communications and marketing for the City of Spokane.

“Holidays are also tied to union contractual agreements, so it will take some time to develop a policy around it,” Coddington said.

The decision is easier for other employers.

Dan Hansen, communications manager at STCU, said the credit union serving the Inland Northwest always takes federally recognized holidays, so Juneteenth was implemented into their calendars immediately after the passage of the law.

“We do feel that it is appropriate, especially at this time,” Hansen said. “I know we’re all glad this was a bipartisan issue.”

Joe Cavanaugh, president of Local 270, which represents most city of Spokane workers, said the union has had “no discussions whatsoever” about the holiday as of Friday. Local 270 is affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“The questions are out there. I’ve already had emails from people asking, do we have Friday off, do we have Monday off? Well, no,” Cavanaugh said.

In Washington, Juneteenth – which passed the state Legislature in April – will be recognized in 2022. This gives the city time to renegotiate for individual city departments, Coddington said.

Cavanaugh said the implementation of a holiday can become complicated because each public entity and involved unions in the city chooses how to observe the holiday.

“Everyone will have to sit down and see how they implement it. The police department will have to decide what to do, the public school districts, the fire districts,” he said. “Everybody will have to be dealt with.”

According to the Employment Law Handbook for Washington state, federal employees are entitled to paid leave on an observed holiday, but they do not have to take it. Often, with the way union contracts are written and observed, Cavanaugh said, some may choose to work on those holidays.

“You get that Monday off, but then you may still have to work that Saturday because of how the contracts are drawn,” Cavanaugh said. “It can create an interesting dynamic.”

Coddington said the city sends the holiday calendar to employees a year in advance, based in part on those union agreements. There is also no deadline for labor negotiations, he said, so those conversations can happen at any time.

Cavanaugh said he expects Juneteenth to be on the table at the next negotiations.

For a private company, Washington state law does not require them to recognize the federal holidays, according to the Employment Law Handbook.

Avista Utilities spokesperson Laurine Jue said the service provider offers one leave day per year to unionized employees, and two for nonunion employees that they may use for a holiday or a sick day. Most employees at Avista – about 60%, by Jue’s estimate – do not belong to unions and likely already knew their holiday schedule for the year.

“This gives us a lot of flexibility for our employees to use that whenever they want,” she said. “So if they want to use it for Juneteenth, they have that option.”

Some national companies like Patagonia will close their stores Saturday to observe the new federal holiday, according to the Associated Press. While stores like J.C. Penney and Target said they would also close on Juneteenth in coming years, they will keep their doors open this weekend, according to AP.

The last time Cavanaugh handled a federal holiday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the 1980s, but he does not expect the process to change much.

“They make the declaration with the intent to do that, and then the city sits down with the bargaining unit,” Cavanaugh said. “You’re dealing with 2,000 city employees, so it can get complicated, but it’s not that complicated.”

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