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Bank of America Makes Juneteenth a Holiday, Joining JPMorgan, Wells Fargo

Stock MarketsJun 18, 2021 20:00
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(Bloomberg) -- Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC). joined JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) in closing branches and offices for Juneteenth starting next year after President Joe Biden signed the federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S. into law.

The banking giants told U.S. employees they’ll receive a floating paid day off to mark the occasion this year, with June 19 falling on a Saturday. The companies both will add Juneteenth to their regular holiday schedules starting next year, they said in memos to their staffs, with bank branches and other facilities closed the day the federal holiday is observed. Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) & Co. is observing Juneteenth as a federal holiday starting in 2022, and “will provide additional information” on its closing plans later, a spokesman said.

While banks making Juneteenth a holiday is key “from a symbolic perspective, it is an important reminder that much work needs to be done in the 21st century to make sure that all the vestiges of slavery are eradicated in our lifetime,” said Dorothy Brown, an Emory University law professor and former Drexel Burnham Lambert investment banker. “Do they promote diverse employees? Do they put diverse employees on the biggest deals?”

Most government workers will be granted paid time off Friday. The Federal Reserve Board’s offices in Washington will be closed Friday, while its financial services operate normally. The central bank said earlier that it will “determine how to adjust our schedule to reflect the new federal holiday in the years to come.” The Securities and Exchange Commission also said its offices will close.

The same won’t be true for the financial markets. Before deciding whether to close, U.S. exchanges -- primarily the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq -- rely on input from several participants including banks, broker-dealers and regulators. The Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association, an industry trade group, said it won’t recommend that fixed-income markets close as the Fedwire settlement system will remain open.

Any decision about whether to make Juneteenth a market holiday “will be part of our annual calendar review during which we consult with stakeholders,” Katrina Cavalli, a Sifma spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement. CME Group Inc. (NASDAQ:CME), the world’s largest futures exchange, will follow Sifma’s lead, a spokeswoman said. The holiday also falls on a weekend in 2022.

At Bank of America, the company is “honoring Juneteenth with broad, robust resources to empower employees to continue our courageous conversations” and to “take action as a company and a catalyst for others in support of racial equality and economic opportunity,” it said in a memo Friday.

JPMorgan “is committed to putting an end to discrimination of any kind, against any group, anywhere it exists in society today,” Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon and Brian Lamb, the bank’s global head of diversity and inclusion, said in a company memo Thursday. “This week’s milestone serves as reminder for each of us to rededicate our actions to the pursuit of equality for every community.”

Paid Holiday

Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C). told employees last year that they could take an extra paid “Heritage Day” holiday each year on a day of their choosing, in coordination with their managers, including Juneteenth.

“The celebration of Juneteenth also serves as a reminder of the hard work that remains to address the terrible legacy of slavery,” Sara Wechter, Citigroup’s head of human resources, said in a memo to U.S. staff Thursday. “Today, and every day, our Citi team is working to build a more equitable society for all.”

Goldman Sachs Group Inc (NYSE:GS). and UBS Group AG (SIX:UBSG) also will give U.S. workers a floating paid holiday. A Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) spokeswoman said the firm told employees they can step away from work at midday Friday, urging them to “consider taking time for any activities that are meaningful to you.”

The legislation to make June 19 a federal holiday had long languished in Congress, but it gained more support after the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer last year. Floyd’s death set off a flurry of actions on Wall Street to respond to racial inequality in the country and within its own ranks.

While recognition of Juneteenth is “a good first step,” there is a risk that banks are “just checking a box,” said Bevon Joseph, co-founder of the Greenwood Project, which works to get minority students into the financial industry.

“The holiday is becoming part of the historical narrative,” Joseph said. “That’s a great thing. But, again, where is the action?”

U.S. markets are sometimes slow to catch up with Congress. While Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday became a federal holiday in 1983, it took 15 years for the major exchanges to close in observance.

Juneteenth marks the day when enslaved African Americans were ordered to be freed after Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, three years after the emancipation proclamation. Momentum for the holiday built quickly through the week, after the Senate passed the legislation without dissent on Tuesday and the House followed with a 415-14 vote the next day.

The law had long been championed by Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, in addition to Democrats. Cornyn has sponsored a resolution to commemorate Juneteenth every year since 2011. He co-sponsored legislation to make the date a federal holiday last year, but it was blocked by Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, who objected to the cost of giving federal workers another paid holiday.

(Updates with branches in first two paragraphs, comments on Juneteenth starting in third.)

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Bank of America Makes Juneteenth a Holiday, Joining JPMorgan, Wells Fargo
 

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