Grid, locked-out workers appear far apart
Utility: Union proposal maintains status quo
NATIONAL GRID AND THE UNIONS representing 1,250 locked-out steelworkers head back to the bargaining table on Thursday, but it doesn’t appear as if the two sides are close to an agreement.
The utility released a statement on Wednesday saying the counteroffer made by the unions last week “only seeks to maintain the status quo” and does not address “the core issues of health insurance and new-hire retirement plans.”
That characterization was far different from how the unions characterized their offer last week and again on Wednesday. In a statement, the presidents of the two locals, John Buonopane and Joe Kirylo, said their counterproposal “would meet the needs of our workers, tackle the serious safety problems within the company, and address the priorities expressed by National Grid. It’s disappointing that rather than negotiate with workers, National Grid chose to reject that offer through a statement to the media.”
National Grid locked its steelworkers out in June after the union refused to accept a contract offer that boosted the current average employee salary from $120,000 a year, including overtime, to $137,000; offered a no-layoff guarantee to all employees with more than five years of service; and provided a 10 percent increase in pension benefits for current employees. Grid’s proposal also required all employees to pay deductibles and co-insurance on their health coverage while putting new employees on a 401K plan instead of a pension and offering them less sick time and life insurance.
In its initial statement, National Grid said it would like to reach an agreement with the locked-out workers by Christmas. “We will be prepared to negotiate for contracts with these two union locals that are in line with those accepted by other unions representing 8,400 employees at National Grid, as well as by other United Steelworkers locals at multiple utilities across New England,” the statement said.The statement from the two union officials called the move by National Grid to lock out 1,250 workers a “disastrous and reckless decision.” The officials adder: “The company decided to use its employees’ paychecks and health insurance – and the safety of Massachusetts communities – as a bargaining chip in these negotiations. This is a shame.”
A legislative committee is scheduled to hold a hearing next Tuesday on a bill designed to pressure National Grid to settle the labor dispute by requiring the company to provide health insurance to the locked-out workers and by denying the utility access to any rate hikes.