(CNN) — This Friday marks Juneteenth, the oldest known holiday honoring the end of slavery in the United States. And this year, more than a dozen companies are, for the first time, giving employees a paid day off from work to observe it.
After weeks of nationwide demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and racial injustices, companies are taking action to address their own issues with racial inequalities and to better support their black employees.
Last week, Nike, Twitter and a handful of other companies said they would observe June 19, or Juneteenth, as a paid holiday. Since then, a number of others have followed their lead.
Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, and announced the news of the proclamation to enslaved African Americans there. That coastal area of Texas was the last to hear that the Civil War had ended two months earlier.
Friday is the 155th anniversary of that day.
“This Friday, June 19, I ask that you take the day to honor the historic pain caused by — and lives lost to — racial inequity and celebrate racial diversity,” JCPenney CEO Jill Soltau said in a message to employees. “This is an opportunity to continue to learn, connect with each other, and reflect on how we can move forward and achieve permanent and lasting change.”
JCPenney is giving corporate employees paid time off on June 19, and providing additional holiday pay for retail associates scheduled to work that day.
Fellow retail giant Target is also making Juneteenth a paid company holiday, and providing hourly workers with time and a half pay. BestBuy has offered its employees a “paid volunteer day,” which they can take on June 19 or another day this year to engage in “peaceful protests, rallies and community service.” Starting next year, BestBuy will make Juneteenth a formal, paid company holiday, it said in a release.
Both Uber and Lyft have said they will provide employees with a paid holiday on Friday. Lyft also said it will provide Citi Bike users in New York City a free ride if they are participating in the Juneteenth Solidarity Ride on Saturday, using the code “SOLIDARITY,” among other related initiatives.
“We encourage team members to take the day to reflect, participate in civic engagement or leverage anti-discrimination resources to deepen understanding of the work still needed to support the black community,” Lyft said in a note to employees.
Uber’s and Lyft’s paid holidays do not apply to the companies’ fleet of drivers, however.
Other companies saying they will observe the holiday this year include Ben & Jerry’s, Tumblr, the New York Times, Spotify, Workday, marketing firm Comscore and Kellogg-owned snack company RxBar. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also issued an executive order this week recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees.
Companies’ acknowledgment of Juneteenth is a good first step, but it can’t be the only step, Meredith Clark, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, told CNN last week.
“It is a nice symbolic gesture,” Clark said. “I’m never going to frown at a company recognizing a day that is culturally important to so many Americans, really to all of us. But at the same time I want to see that sort of action matched with commitment to changing the culture inside these organizations.”
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