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Stop & Shop releases “final offer” to workers threatening strike

Following weeks of tense negotiation, Stop & Shop updated its “final offer” to the five local unions that authorized a strike against the grocery store chain in March. Among the unions moving toward a strike is United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1459, which represents workers in Western Massachusetts.

Last week, negotiations continued between UFCW chapters and Stop & Shop with little progress. On Thursday, UFCW Local 1459 posted an update on its website telling its members that “the company is continuing to be unreasonable.” The next day, the union wrote, “No progress was made yesterday as the company is continuing to propose senseless and mean-spirited demands of the membership that will hurt both members and the customer.”

On Saturday, the UFCW Stop & Shop Negotiation Coalition and the grocery chain made slight progress toward an agreement. “Because of your hard work and service to the customers, the company has begun to make some slight movement,” the coalition wrote to its members.

Stop & Shop posted its offers to the five unions on its website on Monday. “We believe this proposal represents a responsible balance that continues to keep Stop & Shop’s full-time associates among the highest paid in the industry while also providing pay increases and a wide range of benefits for those working full- or part-time schedules,” the website said. The update cited difficulties unique to the Berkshires as the reason for the challenging negotiations, including competition from other non-union stores, state regulations and increased costs of benefits.

Many Stop & Shop workers still view the updated offers as unjust and harmful. In an op-ed in the New Haven Register, UFCW Local 919 member Michael Dutton explained some of the reasons why the offers have angered workers, including proposed cuts in benefits and wage freezes. “In their press releases, management does not address the wages of the majority of its employees, the part-time employees,” Dutton said. He also notes that while benefits are better than smaller stores, Stop & Shop is part of a larger company, Ahold Delhaize. “To someone from another major international employer, our benefits are less than impressive,” he wrote.

As of publication, none of the five unions involved in negotiations had released an official statement in response to the new offer. Many union members, however, have expressed anger at the proposal. A photo on the UFCW Local 919 page showed the union preparing strike packets. Another photo included a copy of the final offer posted around Stop & Shop stores, with a sign taped to it ensuring, “This is not a final proposal! The union has not agreed to anything! The company and union are still talking! This is a scare tactic to weaken us! Stay strong, stay united, stay calm!”

Racially insensitive question on state exam sparks controversy

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will not score an essay question from the 10th-grade statewide Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exam that prompted students to write in the persona of a racist character.

The essay prompt from the English Language Arts portion of the exam – administered in public schools beginning March 26 – asked students to read an excerpt from Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer-Prize winning The Underground Railroad, a 2016 historical fiction novel that follows two slaves’ journey to freedom in the 19th century. 10th graders taking the exam were asked to write from the perspective of Ethel, a racist white woman who uses highly derogatory language toward slaves. 

Students, educators and school administrators across the state were shocked by the racially insensitive question, prompting the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to announce on March 31 that they would not score the question. 

“[Students] felt like they were being asked to basically write creative racist thoughts and put them into words for this character,” said Max Page, vice president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. “This seemed like a disturbing thing to ask students – especially students of color – to do.”

The DESE reviewed and approved the question in 2017, and included it in a field test. No problems were reported.

Whitehead, the book’s author, said in a statement that he was “appalled and disgusted” by the essay question. “What kind of idiot would have students imagine the rationalizations of a racist coward who shrinks from moral responsibility?” he said on WBZ-TV. “