King County Council reverses course on Juneteenth holiday

Weeks after the Metropolitan King County Council voted to move ahead with making Juneteenth a paid county holiday, the council has reversed itself, stalling the legislation and rendering its future uncertain.

Council Chair Claudia Balducci and Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles voted last week to send the legislation back to committee, citing the need for more research, after previously voting to move it out of that committee.

Kohl-Welles is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

The legislation would give all county employees a paid day off to celebrate the day in 1865 that Union soldiers arrived in Texas and announced that all enslaved people had been freed.

Council members had supported the measure as part of efforts to make concrete changes in response to mass protests against systemic racism that have dominated the region and the country since the police killing of George Floyd in May.

“It hung on my mind for the entirety of break because we’re just not really, fully, I don’t think we’ve given it full consideration as to how to could be implemented, the costs, the labor implications, the trade-offs, the things that won’t get done or that might happen if we charge ahead without thinking it through,” Balducci said.

Her office cited a tweet from the King County Equity Now coalition, about the Juneteenth holiday. “Didn’t ask for this,” it reads.

Kohl-Welles said she still “enthusiastically supports” making Juneteenth a paid holiday, but “there is reason to have more of a discussion.”

Making Juneteenth a paid holiday for the county’s approximately 15,000 employees would cost about $4.8 million a year, according to a county analysis, mostly in overtime costs for bus drivers, correctional officers and other employees who will need to continue to work on the holiday. The county also estimates the losses in employee productivity due to the new day off at $6.3 million.