Thursday, July 2, 2020

An Elegant Solution to the "New Federal Holiday" Conundrum

Fox News' most-watched program host, Tucker Carlson, took after two US Senators for advocating the abolition of Columbus Day in favor of Juneteenth - or more accurate, June 19th, 1865, when the last slaves in Texas were informed that they were free - the end of slavery, as it were, at least confederate slavery (it still exists in the form of human trafficking, a topic for another day). 

Juneteenth was never taught in my Oklahoma schools, nor were my sons informed of it here by their Pennsylvania schools. We only learned about it about 20 years ago when our family, living in Virginia at the time, delved into Civil War history - 60% of which was fought in the Commonwealth (of Virginia). For most others, they've learned of it during the past three weeks. I bet we were well ahead of you.
Christopher Columbus monument in Pennsauken, NJ
Texas, it turns out, has recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday for several years. Sen. John Cornyn, the former US Senate GOP whip and the senior Senator from Texas, was the first to propose making it a federal holiday. Two GOP Senators, Ron Johnson (R-WI) and James Lankford (R-OK) have pushed back a little, but only a little - they're all in favor of making Juneteenth a federal holiday, but think that 10 federal holidays a year is enough, and suggest trading the least-celebrated federal holiday - which turns out to be Columbus Day - for Juneteenth. That's what sent Tucker into his tirade.

Sen. Lankford took to his Facebook site right away to explain his rationale. Only 21 states currently recognize Columbus Day. And no one really wants to mess with the other holidays. Martin Luther King Day? Memorial Day? Veterans Day? Labor Day? Are you kidding? Sacrosanct constituencies own those days, but Columbus Day? It's considered important to certain historic Italian American communities - Cooper River Park in Pennsauken, NJ, near one of the largest Italian American communities in North America, Philadelphia, features a Columbus statue replete with an Italian flag.

And did you know that Italy reserves a seat in its Senate from North America (and other parts of the world, where Italians migrated after WWII)? Italy's Senator from North America, Renato "Ron" Turano, until 2018, was a baker from Chicago, a wonderful gentleman. There are a lot of Italian citizens living in the USA and Canada.

So how does Congress and the President resolve the issue of federal holidays in the current unpleasantness? Corporate America, or parts of, may have an answer.

 A former employer on occasion allowed us to take off 9 federal holidays. There are 10, but they allowed us to choose either Columbus Day (October) or Veterans Day (November). We were technically open both days. Why not "cap" federal holidays used to "close" the government at 10 (or less), but create one or two more (Juneteenth and, in even-numbered years, election day) and allow employees to choose among "floating holidays" they will take off? Choosing those "floating holidays" will not be easy, but why not make all but a very few obvious ones, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Independence Day, and Memorial Day - floating holidays? The same could apply to states and private employers.

Of course, some Democrats these days would like to make their sacred day - April 15th - a federal holiday, but I doubt that will make the list. It certainly doesn't make mine.

This way, Congress can have it both (or, multiple) ways. They avoid angering Italian Americans. They honor a newly-important holiday celebrating the end of confederate slavery. And they open the door to giving employees a choice on which days they will take off. In all cases, we will commemorate (teach history!) important events in our nation's history.

Sure, there are management challenges. It will be hard to obtain certain services on certain days when employees choose to take off. But it's no bigger a challenge than the conversion to remote work.

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