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City Council OKs Paid Union Juneteenth Holiday


[CREDIT: Rob Borklowski] Warwick City Hall
WARWICK, RI — The Warwick City Council ratified Mayor Frank Picozzi’s agreement with the city, fire & police unions adding a paid union Juneteenth holiday to the city’s 13 holidays, costing $232,455 this year.

The addition of a union Juneteenth holiday, made in three separate votes ratifying the agreement with each union, each passed on a 6-3 vote, with Councilors Vinny Gebhart, Jeremy Rix and Ed Ladouceur voting no each time.

Each of the three councilors voting no had raised financial concerns with the addition to the city’s paid holidays during the City Council’s Finance Commiittee meeting prior to the 7 p.m. regular June 3 meeting.

Warwick Chief of Staff Aaron Mackisey, responding to Ladouceur’s questions, confirmed the holiday would cost the city about $232,455 this year. Ladouceur said the cost would be added to the current cost of the city’s existing 13 paid holidays at $3,021,915, factoring in healthcare and associated payroll costs.

“Where does this stop?” Ladouceur asked.

“I would say it stops when the federal government stops declaring additional national holidays,” Mackisey said,

Congress established Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021. The holiday commemorates the arrival of the news of emancipation and the freedom of enslaved people in all former Confederate states following the conclusion of the Civil War.  The holiday is called “Juneteenth” because it marks June 19, 1865 — the day Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to serve notice of the Emancipation Proclamation and announce the freedom of America’s last remaining enslaved people.

“The administration’s not recommending this just on a whim or for a holiday that’s not a holiday of significance,” Mackisey continued. “I think there are legitimate debates we can have on the rationale for why it’s an important national holiday to celebrate at the state, local and federal level, but when it comes to the financing of it, I would just say that there are certain benefits and downsides to being a municipal employee,” he said.

While the advantages do include paid holidays, health care and pensions, “One of the disadvantages is the salary,” Mackisey said. Some city employee salaries are small enough that its likely they are living paycheck to paycheck, as many residents do, he said.

“There are a number of holidays on our list already which are not federal holidays,” said Gebhart. He noted that the company he works for has swapped out newly declared holidays such as Juneteenth for other holidays which were not considered as high-priority. “That, to me, would be a more appropriate exercise, than to add a fourteenth or fifteenth paid day off for employees in the city.”

Rix pointed out consolidating federal holidays had been done previously with President Abraham Lincoln’s and President George Washington’s birthdays into Presidents Day.  Also, he said, the city’ contracts don’t all line up with the holidays they provide.

“These resolutions would essentially act as giving away an additional day outside of the bargaining process,” Rix said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for us, under all of the circumstances with city finances, to simply make a giveaway to city employees outside of that normal collective bargaining process,” he said, adding, “I think it would be a great thing for Juneteenth to be a paid holiday for city employees, but I think it’s something that should go through the normal collective bargaining unit process, and perhaps the best solution here is a one-for-one tradeoff with a different holday.”

Later, during the Council’s regular meeting, the Council ratified the three agreements with each union, voting 6-3.

In other news, Council President Steve McAllister noted that Paul Wells, the city’s Sgt. at Arms, was stepping down from his three-year volunteer post aiding residents through the Warwick City Council meeting proceedures and public speaking rules.

Wells took the post after retiring in 2018 as a WPD K-9 officer who, with his partner K-9 Fox, served the city during parades, drug investigations, guarding the City Council and tracking down weapons for a combined 29 years.

“He really did a great job.” as Sgt. at Arms, McAllister said, noting that the Council was now in need of a new volunteer for the job.

Also during the meeting, the Council held discussion on the traffic safety camera program till June 17.

A full list of agenda items and documents for the meeting is posted to the city’s website.


Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of Contact him at [email protected] with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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