Instead of Juneteenth holiday, NYU Langone offers employees a ‘Cultural Heritage Day’

NYU Langone Health announced a new vacation day, which they are calling “Cultural Heritage Day,” after employees pointed out that the medical center’s 2022 holiday calendar did not include Juneteenth.

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NYU Langone Health has announced a new “Cultural Heritage Day.” The announcement comes after Langone did not include Juneteenth, a federal holiday, on their 2022 calendar. (Photo by Nina Schifano, Staff Illustration by Jake Capriotti)

By Abby Wilson, Staff Writer

Juneteenth, a federal holiday on June 19 commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, is not included on NYU Langone Health’s 2022 holiday calendar. Instead, the medical center will allow employees to choose one “Cultural Heritage Day” per year to celebrate individual cultural traditions and customs.

The new policy was announced Oct. 22 after Joy Barrett, a research assistant and technician at Langone, emailed the employee relations department on Sept. 20 to express her frustration that Juneteenth was not listed as an official holiday on the calendar. The schedule, which included a list of eight observed holidays, was announced in an email sent to staff at NYU Langone Health, NYU Langone Hospitals and the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in September.

“As a Black employee at NYU who receives constant notifications, emails, etc about the importance of diversity, inclusion and health equity, I’m quite shocked at this oversight,” Barrett wrote in her email to employee relations, which she shared with WSN. “I strongly encourage NYU Langone to reconsider what is otherwise an insulting lapse of forethought. Do not be the one university that holds back while we are trying to move forward and do better as a nation.” 

Barrett received a response from employee relations the same day, which said that the “premium pay for working on holidays” that would come with adding Juneteenth to the calendar would impose a “significant financial impact” on Langone. But since “Cultural Heritage Day” allows staff members to choose a day off for themselves, the medical center does not have to offer employees additional pay.

Lisa Greiner, a Langone Health spokesperson, told WSN that specifics of the calendar were still under review as of Oct. 15. 

NYU Langone Health is very fortunate to have a diverse workforce which it’s committed to,” Greiner wrote. “At this time we are reviewing options for how best to recognize the variety of multicultural and heritage holidays like the Juneteenth Holiday and will announce to all faculty and staff once the specifics have been finalized.”

However, shortly after Greiner’s statement to WSN, Langone announced a new employee holiday option called a “Cultural Heritage Day,” which employees can observe on any day of the year.

Barrett believes Langone’s choice to implement “Cultural Heritage Day” was dismissive of Juneteenth’s significance — especially because she felt the policy decision was based on Langone not wanting to pay for holiday staffing.

“This ‘Cultural Heritage Day’ tells me two things about NYU Langone — either they play polite politics, meaning that they want to practice neutrality, or they genuinely don’t understand how Juneteenth is different than that of other holidays practiced by people of non-American cultures,” Barrett said.

The “Cultural Heritage Day” will not apply to Langone workers who are members of 1199SEIU, the union that represents around 450,000 healthcare workers in the eastern United States. The union negotiated a separate Juneteenth holiday in a new collective bargaining agreement, according to an email from Langone’s human resources department. Juneteenth is also a holiday for NYU’s non-medical schools and departments during which offices are closed and no classes are scheduled.

Other employees voiced frustrations similar to Barrett’s about Langone’s decision. Gregory Forde, a cook at Langone, said he was disappointed to see that Juneteenth was not included in the calendar. He assumed that June 19 — which President Joe Biden declared a federal holiday for the first time in 2021 — would already be included as an off day.

“It was supposedly going to be a part of the schedule going forward,” Forde said. “I was looking forward to having that particular day off to celebrate, and I’m shocked that we didn’t get that. It should be like any other holiday. You’re dismissing something that’s really powerful.”

Deva Singh, an employee in the radiology department, said Langone should make Juneteenth a top priority when revising its calendar. 

“I’m upset about it,” Singh said. “The majority of people were upset about it also. They were hoping they were revising and including it. People spent so much time and energy into this and they won’t make it a holiday.”

Forde noted that employees were not just asking for a day off, but for Langone to recognize the significance of Juneteenth for Black Americans. 

“It’s not the same thing,” he said. “It’s totally different. It should be like any other holiday. It doesn’t give the same vibration, it doesn’t give the same effect. It loses strength.”

Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected]