A host of US (re)insurance companies including TransRe and Liberty Mutual are closing their offices on Friday in observance of Juneteenth to allow staff to reflect on the recent civil rights protests that have swept across the nation.
Juneteenth is an unofficial US holiday that is celebrated each year to commemorate Union army general Gordon Granger’s landing at Galveston, Texas on 19 June 1865 with the news that the Civil War was over and that the enslaved in the state had been freed.
Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation almost three years earlier which had formally freed slaves, while the Civil War itself had ended with the defeat of the Confederate states in April around two months prior. But Texas was the most remote of the slave states, and as such, enforcement of Lincoln’s executive order had been minimal.
The arrival of Granger and his force on 19 June was enough to overpower the resistance.
The name Juneteenth is a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth”, while it is also known as Freedom Day in some quarters.
Companies give staff time to reflect
In light of the recent civil rights protests in the US, companies including TransRe, Liberty Mutual, BMS and Allstate are closing their offices on Juneteenth, giving staff an opportunity to consider what the date signifies and the significant strides that still need to be made for society to be equal.
In a statement to staff, TransRe CEO Mike Sapnar told colleagues the company was closing its US operations in observance of Juneteenth.
“Let’s use the time to rest given the extra effort many in the company have put forth in recent weeks and to reflect given the historical significance of this date,” he said.
Sapnar recommended colleagues watch 13th, a documentary regarding the 13th Amendment which he described as “illuminating” and “sobering”.
“People have been dealing with a lot of pressures recently – both socially and work wise – and we wanted to give our colleagues a day to reflect on what’s been going on and how they might take action to advance, improve or help move the community forward,” Sapnar told The Insurer.
Liberty Mutual has also given its 40,000-plus staff Juneteenth off.
As chairman and CEO David Long explained, colleagues have been given the unscheduled vacation day “to reflect, connect and learn as we continue to face painful racial injustices of the past and present, and extraordinary challenges across the nation”.
“We support our black employees, customers and communities on this significant day in our history, and every day, and will do the hard work together to take meaningful action both inside and outside our company,” Long added.
At the beginning of the month, AIG informed staff they could take an additional day of paid leave this year to volunteer for an organisation that focuses on education about the importance of equality, diversity, inclusion, criminal justice reform, and human and civil rights, or in other ways provides support for under-represented and at-risk groups.
In a new memo to staff, AIG’s CEO Brian Duperreault and Peter Zaffino, CEO of the company’s General Insurance division, explained the day can be used to learn about historical episodes of injustice that have impacted the world and to observe important milestones.
Juneteenth, which is sometimes referred to America’s Second Independence Day, is one such instance, and AIG’s leadership team has told employees that they may take this additional paid leave to commemorate the day.
Duperreault and Zaffino said it had been heartening to see so many of the company’s staff supporting black colleagues and others who have been discriminated against or faced unconscious bias.
“Important conversations are occurring throughout AIG, but we know this is only one step in a journey where tangible actions must lead to better outcomes and lasting change,” the pair said.
“We stand firm in our commitment to foster an environment in which all colleagues, regardless of race, color, religion, gender, nationality or national origin, ethnicity, age, disability, genetic information, family or marital status, military service, gender identity or expression or sexual orientation, feel respected and valued.
“While we have made strides over the last few years, we recognise that there is much more work to be done,” Duperreault and Zaffino added.
AIG commits to creating additional resources
The insurance giant’s comments come after the company made an initial statement of support to the civil rights movement at the beginning of the month.
“We stand as allies with our black colleagues, clients and communities,” AIG said at the time, while also pledging a $250,000 donation to both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense Fund and Amnesty International.
AIG is working to create opportunities to allow colleagues to discuss recent events.
“Your courage to speak up, to listen and to engage will make our longer-term actions more impactful – which will ultimately make AIG a healthier company and better place to work for all colleagues,” Duperreault and Zaffino said in the latest announcement.
At the same time, AIG has committed to develop additional resources and programmes designed to increase the representation of black and other underrepresented groups throughout the company.
“We encourage colleagues to participate in external forums and activities to draw on the experiences of others and gain valuable insights into what has worked and what has not,” the AIG executives said.
Swiss Re closes US offices
Swiss Re is also closing its US offices to recognise the abolishment of slavery in Texas.
Group CEO Christian Mumenthaler noted this came more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the same year Swiss Re was founded.
“Since that time, we’ve grown, and our business model has expanded around the world,” Mumenthaler said. “We are proud that people from 115 different nations, across 30 countries work in our organisation. Diversity is essential for us, but there is still a long way to go. Let there be no doubt that discrimination has no place at Swiss Re. We stand together in our commitment to promoting an inclusive culture.”
Allstate to conduct top-to-bottom review
Personal lines insurer Allstate this week revealed it is also observing Juneteenth as an annual company holiday “to provide Allstaters the opportunity to reflect on this monumental event and engage in their communities”.
Allstate is also conducting a top-to-bottom review of its operating practices, pay and promotions for people of colour and women to further promote equity and equality at the insurer.
“Systemic racism is pervasive and we must not be complicit by inaction or silence,” the insurer said in a press release. “For our society to eliminate the inequities in America, each of us needs to have the will to change, the heart to trust and the energy to lead.”
This article was updated on 19 June to add details about Swiss Re.