Last June, amid protests against police brutality and a larger reckoning with systemic racism in American life, New York mayor Bill de Blasio made a promise to municipal workers and public-school students. “Starting next year, Juneteenth will be an official city holiday and official New York City schools holiday,” de Blasio said. Commemorating the end of slavery in the United States would be “an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of our history.”
That opportunity has been squandered. Despite last year’s public pledge, which came at an official mayoral briefing, the city holiday has not come to pass. The New York Times reports that city workers learned on Tuesday they would not receive a paid day off — even though President Biden just signed a law making Juneteenth a federal holiday, and many white-collar workplaces are giving employees a three-day weekend.
The de Blasio administration had a full year to figure out the particulars and make the vow a reality. But The City reported earlier this year that, as of January, the mayor’s office hadn’t contacted the city’s teachers union about the day off. The Times notes that “granting workers an extra day off required labor negotiations, in part because unions were expected to help pay for the expense.” Since those talks never happened, neither did the holiday.
While New York state employees have the day off — Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered on a similar promise last year — municipal workers will need to use PTO for the holiday. (Because June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, state employees have a “pass holiday” to use on a day of their choosing, pending supervisor approval.) And though New York City teachers and students won’t have the day off this year, they will be able to celebrate the holiday next year, as the state holiday applies to the city’s schools.
The Juneteenth failure isn’t the only pledge from last summer’s reform movement on which city government did not deliver. On Tuesday, the Citizens Budget Commission — a watchdog group “pursuing constructive change in the finances and services of New York City and State” — reported that the city government only cut $300 million from the NYPD budget, when de Blasio and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson pledged to relocate $1 billion in police funding.
The unfinished business did not stop the mayor from making related assurances for the future. On Thursday, de Blasio announced his “Juneteenth Economic Justice Plan,” which involves giving every child entering public-school kindergarten a $100 savings bond beginning next year. “Juneteenth marked the end of slavery, but not the end of systemic, structural racism in America,” de Blasio said in a statement. “To begin to repair harms of the past, New York City is investing in the future and building generational wealth.”