Busted unions

Labor unions may be taking a beating these days but they’re not going down without a fight and somebody is going to emerge bloodied.

The latest battlefield is right here in Massachusetts as National Grid’s lockout of some 1,200 union workers is in its third week with no immediate end in sight. The utility giant took the action after they said no progress was made on contract talks and officials said they feared either a strike, which had been authorized by union workers, or slowdowns, which would impede operations.

But union officials said they offered to continue working under the old contract, which contained a no-strike clause, but company officials took the drastic step of shutting them out. They have filed a labor complain over the action but it will take some time to sort out.

The key issues are increased health costs and eliminating the pension program by replacing it with 401(k) plans for new hires. National Grid says such moves are commonplace around the country but union officials say the inherent risks of the jobs require robust health and pension benefits.

Needless to say, it is becoming a PR fight with the unions upping the ante by offering heart-wrenching tales to the media of locked-out workers whose health insurance was canceled by National Grid. One out-of-work employee has surgery scheduled to remove a cancerous tumor on his liver while another is trying to cobble together money and coverage for a biopsy for her 9-year-old daughter who suffers from a rare lung disease. A worker in Springfield is scrambling to pay for the $8,300-a-month cost for the cancer drug his wife takes.

It’s highly unlikely reporters, as good as they are, found these folks on their own without some union help. It appears to be an intense campaign including radio and TV ads by the Steelworkers’ union to put the pressure on National Grid to come back to the table. The unions are pressing communities about the dangers of non-union workers working with gas. Several cities and towns have passed moratoriums on National Grid projects until the lockout is resolved.

Is it working? Not yet, with the next round of talks not slated until next week. But while unions are putting the pressure on National Grid, the company may be content to sit and wait. There’s an administration in Washington that’s not a friend to labor and the likelihood of a Labor Department decision against the utility is slim. Unions also recently got a gut punch from the Supreme Court in the Janus decision that ruled dues cannot be mandated from public sector employees, reducing labor’s influence in politics because they won’t have the money or the numbers to be as big a player.

Massachusetts likes to think of itself as a union-friendly state, with prevailing wage laws and an amenable Legislature. But with the growth of the technology sector, the number of union workers in the Bay State hovers around 12.4 percent, putting Massachusetts in the middle of the ranks of the country, far above South Dakota’s 3.9 percent membership but slightly more than half of New York’s union membership rate of 23.8 percent.

The National Grid workers will be back but there will be hard feelings. But, unfortunately for unions, fewer and fewer people care. And that indifference could be more harmful to them than any court decision.

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

The House approved an August sales tax holiday via an amendment to an economic development bill. (Associated Press) The chamber also gave initial approval to an education bill that would send about $500 million in additional aid to cities and towns to pay for special education and school retiree health benefits. And the House is preparing to take up an opioid bill, minus a provision sought by Gov. Charlie Baker that would allow authorities to hold someone for 72 hours if their substance abuse poses risk of significant harm. (State House News)

State Rep. Ted Speliotis, facing pressure from small package store owners, withdrew an amendment to an economic development bill that would have allowed liquor stores to offer coupons. (Salem News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Rockland Selectman Deirdre Hall quit the board after an external review determined she was the sexual aggressor in an after-hours encounter with Town Administrator Allan Chiocca, who was suspended after Hall accused him of sexually inappropriate behavior. (Patriot Ledger)

Methuen officials and the police superior officers union reached a deal to hold pay hikes to 18.7 percent this year rather than 98 percent. Town officials said the previously negotiated contract terms, which stacked benefits on top of each other and disguised the true cost, would have bankrupted the city. (Eagle-Tribune)

Over protests, the Lynn City Council approved a $2.5 million, seven-year tax break for a mixed-use development project with market-rate housing on the site of a community garden. (Daily Item)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee for the US Supreme Court, was well liked by faculty and students when he taught at Harvard Law School. (Boston Globe)

President Trump kicked off the NATO summit in Brussels by belittling allies, calling the organization “obsolete,” and charging Germany was under control of Russia because of an oil deal. (New York Times)

A new poll shows more than 54 percent of voters do not want to abolish the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement while just one in four favor eliminating the agency. (National Review)

The FCC is overhauling its comment system after millions of submissions were found to be fake. (Wall Street Journal)

ELECTIONS

A Boston Globe editorial grudgingly applauded conservatives for their relentless and disciplined electoral pursuit of a conservative majority on the US Supreme Court and criticized liberals for their insistence on absolutist purity among candidates that ended up costing them in the end.

Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker wonders when Democrats are going to start supporting their candidates for governor. “For now, this is the race of Charlie Baker’s dreams,” he said.

Democrats seem to have the edge right now in the race for Congress. (FiveThirtyEight)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Braintree officials are seeking $1 million from Amazon and its landlord for traffic improvements around the planned site of its new distribution center in the town. (Patriot Ledger)

Under pressure from President Trump, Pfizer rolls back planned price increases on many of its drugs. (Stat)

Marcotte Ford in Holyoke builds an $8 million dealership around a restaurant. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

CommonWealth profiles Keri Rodrigues, a controversial education activist who played a leading role in the 2016 charter school ballot question fight and who is now working as mom-in-chief at Massachusetts Parents United.

Major colleges are dropping the SAT test as an admissions requirement. (Washington Post)

Boston University severs ties with Ari Betof, the head of school at Boston University Academy, and won’t say why. (Boston Globe)

Berkshire Community College receives $5.5 million in state funds for a new center to ease transitions for new students. (Berkshire Eagle)

Students of color often have trouble fitting in on college campuses and mental health services for them are even more scarce for them than they are for other students. (Boston Globe)

Online giving to educational institutes rose 13 percent in the first half of 2018. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Attorney General Maura Healey said she is concerned that the Beth Israel-Lahey et al megamerger could drive up health care costs and reduce access to care. (Boston Globe)

Falmouth selectmen passed a resolution calling on the Legislature to pass a physician-assisted suicide law, the sixth community on the state to approve such a resolution. (Cape Cod Times)

Paramedics in some South Coast communities are administering far less fentanyl and using non-addictive pain relievers for emergency patients through the first six months of the year compared because of a new statewide protocol. (Standard-Times)

TRANSPORTATION

Liane Hornsey, chief people officer at Uber, resigned following an investigation into how she handled allegations of racial discrimination at the firm. (Reuters)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey are signing on as co-sponsors of a bill to award money for developing technology and equipment to reduce the risk of entanglements by right whales in fishing equipment. (Cape Cod Times)

Investors are lining up to buy green bonds, a financing approach pioneered to some degree in Massachusetts. (Governing)

The United States is nearing energy independence as net oil imports are expected to drop to their lowest levels in more than 60 years. (U.S. News & World Report)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

US Attorney Andrew Lelling issued a statement saying his office would not prosecute people for selling and using marijuana in Massachusetts, but would focus enforcement efforts on overproduction and diversion of pot to other states, sales to minors, and organized crime involvement. (Boston Globe) Lelling’s statement received a lot of media coverage, but it was not substantially different from past statements, particularly an interview he did last Tuesday with WBUR.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

More State Police troubles: Lynn DeWolfe pleaded innocent to charges of motor vehicle homicide and drugged driving. The alleged incident happened minutes after a trooper let DeWolfe leave the scene of another accident. (Boston Globe) Alexis Weisz, the wife of the man killed in the accident, called on the State Police to get to the bottom of what happened. (Lowell Sun)

PASSINGS

Jenny Phillips, a filmmaker, therapist, and wife of Boston Globe State House bureau chief Frank Phillips, drowned Monday evening after jumping from a small sailboat manned by her husband off the coast of Nantucket to swim to shore. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

The unnamed source in a Boston Globe story on Food for the Poor wrote a letter to the editor  explaining how he uncovered that the charity was hiding the fact that very little of the money it raised was actually going to help the poor.

Globe editorial page editor Ellen Clegg is leaving the paper at the end of August after nearly 40 years in various posts, though she says her decision is not related to the buyouts underway. (Boston Business Journal) After the BBJ published its story, Dan Kennedy revealed he and Clegg will be working together on a project, likely a textbook about opinion journalism. (Media Nation)