Union to offer Grid a counterproposal

O'Day bill pressuring utility set for Dec. 4

STATE HOUSE NEWS

NATIONAL GRID and representatives of its more than 1,200 locked-out gas workers plan to meet for more contract talks on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.

“The union has a comprehensive counterproposal that we think will address the company’s concerns and the union’s concerns,” United Steel Workers Local 12012 president John Buonopane said on Tuesday. “We’re hoping the company takes it serious.”

Buonopane declined to outline details of the counterproposal, which he said was the first official counterproposal from the union since the company updated its proposal in October. The lockout began in late June.

Both sides met last Friday. After those talks, National Grid said the union had indicated a counterproposal was in the works. “We are anxious to see a counter-proposal from the unions. It will be the first time we’ve received a counter-proposal to our final offer, which the unions rejected almost five months ago,” National Grid spokeswoman Danielle Williamson said in a statement.

According to National Grid, its five-year contract offer features wage increases totaling 14.5 percent, a no-layoff guarantee to all employees with five-plus years of service, and an 80 percent company contribution to health insurance premiums. The company says its contract offer compares favorably to the contracts of other utility workers, while the steel workers’ union asserts the offer is unfair to workers and scales back pension offerings.

Meanwhile, dates have been set for two December hearings on Beacon Hill into natural gas safety and a bill designed to amplify pressure on National Grid to end its lockout of gas workers.

Rep. Thomas Golden and Sen. Michael Barrett, the co-chairs of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, announced the hearings on Tuesday, a week after the Senate put forward a different schedule that did not include participation from the House.

The first hearing on Dec. 4 will focus on a bill (H 4960) filed by Rep. James O’Day of Worcester in July that would force National Grid to extend health insurance benefits to locked out gas workers during the labor dispute.

The second hearing will take place Dec. 11 in Boston and will focus on statewide natural gas infrastructure and safety.

A third oversight hearing on the specifics of the Merrimack Valley gas disaster from September has been postponed.

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Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Senate President Karen Spilka’s office said last week that that an unspecified group of senators would hold that hearing in the Merrimack Valley on Dec. 17, but House leaders balked. Golden said House members wanted to participate but had been asked by local leaders, including the mayor of Lawrence, to hold off until all residents were back in their homes with gas service.

The self-imposed deadline for Columbia Gas to restore all gas service in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover is now Dec. 16.

“An additional hearing held in the Merrimack Valley will be scheduled with guidance from local municipal officials once the restoration process is complete and people are safely back in their homes and will focus on the specifics of the incident there,” Golden and Barrett said in a statement.