House goes with Senate approach on Grid legislation
Utility, union locals say they are moving toward an agreement by Dec. 28
HOUSE LEADERSHIP spent all day thinking about it, but in the end decided to go with the Senate’s approach to extending unemployment benefits to locked-out steelworkers – most immediately to the 1,250 workers locked out by National Grid.
The House opened its session at 11 a.m. and recessed at 11:30 until a little after 4 p.m. With only a couple lawmakers in the chamber, the House in a matter of minutes concurred with the Senate language. House officials said the two branches will put some finishing procedural touches on the legislation on Monday and then send it to Gov. Charlie Baker, who is expected to sign it.
Steelworkers hung around outside the House chamber most of the day on Friday, waiting for the body to act. Now the big question is what impact the extended unemployment benefits will have on the negotiations between National Grid and its two steelworker locals. The extended benefits most likely give the unions some breathing room to strike a deal, but whether either side will bend is difficult to say. Their positions have become entrenched, although Grid said it was making a new offer to the unions on Friday.
In a statement issued jointly National Grid and the steelworker locals on Friday, the utility said it refrained from making a new contract offer to focus on reaching an overall agreement. “The company and the unions have agreed to a firm schedule to meet and bargain with the shared intent to reach an agreement by December 28,” the joint statement said.
The National Grid employees have been locked out of work since June without paychecks or health insurance. Their unemployment benefits were scheduled to run out in January, but the legislation given near-final approval on Friday would extend the benefits for another 26 weeks or whenever the lock-out ends, whichever is sooner.
The bill extends unemployment benefits to any locked-out worker in Massachusetts and requires all private employers to pick up the added cost. It represents a very pro-union stance by the Legislature, and it was passed in informal sessions, when a single legislator would have the power to block the legislation from moving forward.The House gave up on its language, which would have confined the bill’s reach to utilities and required all the state’s utilities to pick up the added cost. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he wanted the House bill to target National Grid specifically, but he says it passed before he discovered it wasn’t drafted correctly.
Grid previously has offered an increase in wages (the company says the average salary of the workers is $120,000), job security after five years on the job, and an increase in pension benefits. The company wants to put new workers on 401Ks and require all workers to share more of the company’s health insurance costs, provisions the union has resisted.