Baker signs National Grid legislation

New law extends unemployment benefits of locked-out workers

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER signed into law on Monday morning a bill that extends the unemployment benefits of workers locked out by their employers, giving a legislative victory to steelworkers locked out by National Grid.

While the governor had indicated he would sign such legislation, his decision to sign the bill Monday morning surprised nearly everyone. He received the bill from the Legislature on December 24 and had until Thursday to take action on it. After waiting a week, most observers expected the governor to hold off until the last minute to keep pressure on the two sides to come to an agreement. Indeed, the steelworkers were headed to Beacon Hill Monday morning to pressure Baker to sign the legislation when they got word he had done just that.

In a statement, Baker shed little light on his decision-making process, other than to link the law extending the unemployment benefits of locked-out workers to legislation he is seeking requiring more oversight of all natural gas projects.

“I eagerly await the Legislature’s approval of our bill to strengthen natural gas safety procedures and urge both National Grid and the steelworkers union to swiftly reach consensus so that utility customers can receive the level of service and safety they deserve,” he said in his statement.

National Grid locked out its workers in June, depriving them of paychecks and health insurance. The workers’ unemployment benefits are scheduled to run out in mid-January, so the new law gives the union a bit more leverage in its negotiations with National Grid. The two sides had mutually agreed to try to reach a deal on Friday and all indications were that they were close, but the deadline passed without an agreement.

Both the union and National Grid issued statements on Monday suggesting they were again digging in. Union officials said they hoped that passage of the legislation would motivate National Grid to end the lockout.  “We are continuing to review National Grid’s latest contract offer, and have another bargaining session scheduled for Wednesday. Though we are continuing to bargain in good faith, issues remain and no agreement has been reached,” the union officials said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

National Grid suggested the legislation would have little impact on the company’s approach at the bargaining table. “While it’s unfortunate that the state has chosen to become involved in a private labor dispute, this legislation changes nothing in regards to our objective, which has always been to reach a fair agreement that balances the needs of our customers and employees,” the utility said. “We are presently reviewing the legislation to determine whether it is in conflict with federal law and will act accordingly.”

The new law extends unemployment benefits of locked-out workers an additional 26 weeks or until the lockout ends, whichever is shorter. While union officials supported the legislation, business groups opposed it.