National Grid Lock-Out of Workers Did Not Have to Happen

Imagine your employer locked you out of your job, stopped paying you and canceled health insurance for you and your family all as a way to send a message: When you get desperate enough you’ll come back with fewer benefits and worse insurance.

It’s unethical and it is exactly what National Grid is doing to 1,200 of its most important employees, the gas workers of United Steel Workers Locals 12003 and 12012.

And beyond the ethics, the callous disregard for workers and their families, there is a far more serious issue with National Grid’s decision: It imperils the safety of all of us. The men and women locked out of work are the ones who know how to fix and manage the gas lines that run down our streets and into our homes and businesses. And in addition to fighting for fair benefits and health care, we want National Grid to guarantee enough inspectors and markout workers to ensure the safety of our work in the coming years.

Already across the state of Massachusetts we have seen inexperienced gas workers make dangerous, potentially disastrous mistakes. Homeowners are sick of going without hot water while they wait for weeks for crews to arrive. And just this week National Grid struggled to quickly respond to a major gas leak that forced the evacuations of numerous buildings near Fenway.

None of this had to happen.

National Grid chose to lock out its employees. They’ve threatened public safety and inflicted misery on the people that propelled them to record profits not out of necessity, but as a bargaining tool. This is not how negotiations between a company and its employees should go, especially a company that has done as well as National Grid has. As recently as this past May, executives bragged that company profits had grown by a staggering 24 percent over the previous year. National Grid’s FY2018 pretax profit was $3.66 billion, up from $2.18 billion the year before. And that number was helped along by a massive tax cut from the Trump administration. In a just world, companies that have enjoyed such massive success would share the rewards with the workers that helped make it happen, not try to starve them into accepting cuts.

National Grid Massachusetts President Marcy Reed is now contending that National Grid’s practice of annually escalating charges to its customers – increasing bills to homeowners, businesses, elders on fixed incomes by a whopping 5 to 7 percent every single year – is somehow the fault of the locked out workers who make up one-tenth of National Grid’s workforce. Nobody in their right mind believes that healthcare and pension benefits of one-tenth of the workers at National Grid is the reason the company year after year after year shoots up its rates. Right now – in the midst of record profits and locked out workers – National Grid is trying once again to convince the state to let them jack up bills for customers for next year.

Instead of blaming the men and women who do the actual work at National Grid, why doesn’t the company look at its endless supply of consultants, high priced lobbyists and PR people and at its inordinately high executive salaries and benefits? Why decide to start showing deep concern about affordability by attacking the people who go down in the holes on the street and make certain we are safe and warm in the winter and cool in the summer? With this lockout National Grid is telling Massachusetts that our safety is less important than high payouts to wealthy stockholders.

Ask your friends and neighbors where National Grid should cut: in the executive suites, or at the worksite?

The National Grid lockout is cruel, disruptive, and immoral. It is a shameless attempt by an already successful company to cause so much pain to its own employees that they’ll do anything to end it. It is long past time for National Grid to end the lockout, come to the bargaining table, and work out a true agreement that respects the dedication and hard work our members bring to their jobs every day.

John Buonopane is president of United Steelworkers Local 12012. Joe Kirylo is president of United Steelworkers Local 12003.

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