Lehigh County officially recognizes Juneteenth as an official paid holiday

Written by on December 10, 2020

Lehigh County officially recognizes Juneteenth as an official paid holiday

By Tyler Pratt

December 10, 2020

Allentown residents commemorate Juneteenth 2020. Photo |Tyler Pratt

Lehigh County will now officially recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday for workers. But the move to give employees the day off to honor African American independence from slavery was met with some opposition. 

Listen to the story.

Montgomery and Allegheny Counties, as well as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have also enacted measures to make Junteenth a paid holiday. 

The Lehigh County Board already worked Juneteenth into the new budget, so voting on the bill Wednesday evening was largely a formality. Still, three commissioners, all white men, opposed adding a 12th holiday to the county’s calendar. 

“I think we are opening up the up the door to Latino holidays and even St. Paddy’s day for Irish-Americans,”Percy Dougherty said.

Dougherty cited the expense, alleging hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost work and overtime costs. 

Zakiya Smalls, the only Black commissioner on the board, co-sponsored the bill. 

“This holiday serves as a huge symbol and it’s extremely important,” Smalls said. “I understand that there are a lot of naysayers and pushbacks regarding the budget. But sometimes you just have to do the right thing that’s not so monetary.” 

Other white members, Bob Elbich and Dan Hartzell, opposed the paid holiday and suggested a ceremony or activities instead. 

Marc Grammes disagreed, saying giving employees June 19th allows them to celebrate. 

“The State of Texas has it as a paid holiday since 1980 and I think you are going to see this pretty soon as a national holiday,” Grammes said. 

In the end the council voted 5 to 3 to pass the Bill. Adding Lehigh County to a small group of bodies in the Commonwealth that officially honor Juneteenth.

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