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'Derogatory' text about Juneteenth sent by eastern Massachusetts plumbers union angers lawmakers

Faucet dripping water.
Creative Commons
Faucet dripping water.

A text including what one Massachusetts lawmaker is calling a "derogatory and offensive" phrase was sent out to 2,000 members of a plumbers union on Monday describing the upcoming Juneteenth holiday.

Local 12 plumbers union, based in eastern Massachusetts, sent a text to members saying that Juneteenth is a federal holiday and falls on a Sunday this year. It then said "melon Monday" is an optional holiday for members. The term melon — short for watermelon — is a stereotype long associated with Black culture.

State Rep. Bud Williams, D-Springfield, said a Black union member picked up on the phrase and sent it to lawmakers.

"It's very offensive. Very derogatory," said Williams, a member of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and chair of its racial equity, civil rights, and inclusion committee. "It takes us back to a time in this country's history when it wasn't so pleasant. And quite frankly, on some days, I feel we haven't come very far."

A follow-up text was sent by a representative of the union claiming there was "an error" in the original message and it was not "intended to offend anyone."

A representative of the union issued a formal apology and told Boston 25 News the words are "unacceptable and are squarely at odds of fighting for the rights of all workers."

Williams said the apology does not resolve the pain caused by racisms towards the Black community.

"They want to do an apology and all that, but it's always an apology. We've never gotten the apology for slavery," he said. "We should be celebrating our diversity and having a good conversation about good things. Here we are rehashing some old stuff. You know, the wounds of black people are still there."

Williams said he hopes to spend the upcoming Juneteenth weekend celebrating. He said the the caucus is planning to send a reminder to local municipalities that this is a federal holiday recognized in Massachusetts. Juneteenth is officially on Sunday, June 19, but will be observed on Monday, June 20.

Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America.
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