Gas pains

As the National Grid lockout of 1,200 gas workers nears two months, there is growing pressure on the company by local officials to end the impasse. But there doesn’t seem to be much awareness by the general public of what’s happening, mostly because warm weather means low demand for natural gas.

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch is the latest to join a growing list of local officials telling National Grid he will not issue permits for work outside of emergencies until the company ends its lockout of workers. His declaration follows Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the Lowell City Council, and other municipalities who have put a stop to the company’s requests for commercial and residential hookups.

But that may not be a bad thing for National Grid, which is using management and replacement workers to try to fill the holes left by shutting out the regular employees. When they receive complaints, they can throw their hands in the air and point the fingers at cities and towns for not letting them do the work.

Locked-out workers have gathered at a number of spots to call attention to their plight, forming information rallies at places such as South Station during the morning commute, outside the State House to urge Gov. Charlie Baker to get involved, and around large work sites that union officials say could become public safety hazards with inexperienced employees hooking up volatile gas lines.

But whether it’s the lazy days of summer, the absence of the union-friendly Legislature, or the declining resources of news outlets, the lockout doesn’t appear to be resonating with the general public. Try as they might, news stories are few and far between with officials from the Steelworkers Union, which represents the locked out workers, pushing op-eds to pressure the company and draw attention to their cause. And that, inevitably, triggers a response from National Grid for balance.

There are growing reports of homeowners and businesses unable to get service beyond emergency shutoffs. One Dracut business owner, in a letter to the editor in the Lowell Sun, said she was told by the utility a $4 million building her company is building in Methuen and ready to move into cannot be hooked up until next spring.

“To have a brand new $4 million building sit idle and be potentially destroyed is unconscionable,” Donna Marks, president of Portland Stone Ware Co., wrote. “National Grid is holding its customers hostage. Once a building has been permitted and construction has started with plans and equipment purchased that will utilize natural gas, we don’t have options.”

The one thing both sides agree on is that there was no agreement when the contract expired on June 25. Union officials say they offered to continue working under the lapsed collective bargaining agreement but company officials refused, hiring replacements and not only barring union employees from work but cutting off their health benefits. The union was initially successful in getting some stories out about employees who had devastating unmet medical needs because of the action but those have faded.

For their part, National Grid officials say they took the lockout action and hired replacements out of fear of a work stoppage, regardless of what the union claimed. They point to a strike authorization vote in the days preceding the end of the contract and a refusal to promise not to walk out.

The divide is over pensions for new workers and health care benefits for all union employees. National Grid wants to move to defined contribution and 401(k) retirement plans with matches by the company while retaining pensions for current workers. The union claims that creates an unequal system of workers doing the same job for different benefits.

The company also wants to institute deductibles and co-pays for the health plans, which many workers around the country have been forced to bear, to maintain profitability. Workers say that’s a bit much for a utility that posted a 24 percent profit last year.

There is precedent for an extended lockout by National Grid. In 1993, Boston Gas, a predecessor to National Grid, endured a bitter four-month lockout that ran from late January to May. The issues? Pensions and health insurance.

But as summer ebbs, the problems for the company will pick up. And people will start paying attention.

JACK SULLIVAN


MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Unhappy with his $62,300 salary, Robert Craver, the town clerk of Webster, has cut back his hours and now only works three days a week. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Washington Post lays out what President Trump has said about hush payments to women who alleged he had sex with them and concludes the president lied.

An official from the Mashpee Wampanoag testified before a Senate committee that keeping its reservation land is critical to the tribe reviving its lost language. (Cape Cod Times)

Hillary Chabot says Elizabeth Warren hurt her national prospects with a “cringeworthy policy response” to a question about the murder of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts at the hands of an alleged illegal immigrant. (Boston Herald) Meanwhile, Warren releases 10 years of tax returns. (Associated Press)

A juror in the Paul Manafort case said only one juror held out on the 10 counts that did not result in a conviction. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

Lori Trahan ipicks up another endorsement in the 10-way Democratic primary scramble for the open Third Congressional District seat in the Merrimack Valley, this time from the Boston Herald.

A Lowell Sun editorial backed the election of incumbent Rep. Rady Mom, who is facing a primary challenge. “There is no reason to make a change,” the paper said.

US Rep. Richard Neal and Democratic challenger Tahirah Amatul-Wadud hold what seems to have been a polite debate. (Berkshire Eagle)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez slams Gov. Charlie Baker for proposing a change in welfare policy that Gonzalez also backed when he was working for former governor Deval Patrick. The Gonzalez campaign, however, says he took his action during the recession, while Baker is acting when the economy is booming. (MassLive)

Joan Vennochi rips Republican US Senate candidates Geoff Diehl and John Kingston for dodging debates with fellow GOP candidate Beth Lindstrom. (Boston Globe)

Rachelle Cohen gives a shout-out to Middlesex DA challenger Donna Patalano who is spotlighting the high turnover and lack of transparency in the office under incumbent Marian Ryan. CommonWealth looked at the race earlier this month.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo was already in a tough reelection fight — and the departure of the Pawtucket Red Sox isn’t helping. (Boston Globe)

Josh Zakim, who is challenging incumbent Bill Galvin for secretary of state, an office that oversees elections in the Commonwealth, has not voted in 16 different elections since turning 18 years old in 2002. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

It’s a Triple-A duel between economists Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College and Victor Matheson of Holy Cross on whether the Worcester Red Sox deal is a good one. (CommonWealth) Other communities that have helped finance minor league baseball stadiums, including Nashville; Durham, North Carolina,; and El Paso, Texas, say surrounding development has been slow to materialize. (WBUR)

Developer Christopher Cox has gobbled up a lot of property along Route 40 in Chelmsford and is now seeking a zoning change that would allow him to start building, but he is running into local opposition from people who say more development will ruin an area that is one of the last vestiges of rural life. (Lowell Sun)

A local developer in North Adams is seeking to repurpose an old church and school building as a luxury hotel. (Berkshire Eagle)

A study shows auto dealerships are struggling to hire and retain a younger salesforce. (Wall Street Journal)

EDUCATION

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering letting schools buy guns for teachers using federal funding intended for academic and enrichment programs for poorer districts. (New York Times)

Boston officials will unveil the new $73 million Dearborn STEM 6-12 Early College Academy today, the first new city public school built in 15 years. (Boston Herald)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Two studies published yesterday say efforts to rein in physicians’ opioid prescribing habits are not having their intended effects. (Boston Globe)

RELIGION

Cardinal Sean O’Malley will convene a meeting next week of priests in the Boston archdiocese amidst ongoing scandals involving clergy sexual abuse of minors and allegations of sexual misconduct at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. (Boston Herald)

TRANSPORTATION

JetBlue and American already fly out of Worcester airport, and now the chairman of the Massport board says a third national airline will begin launching flights from central Massachusetts. A press conference is scheduled for next week. (Telegram & Gazette)

A study by UMass shows seat belt use by Bay State drivers has increased but still lags behind the national average with drivers in Brockton having the lowest rate of use in the state. (The Enterprise)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The state commits $2.6 million for how-to-recycle initiatives. (State House News) The state grants are good, but a Salem News editorial says people need to focus on the bigger picture of reducing the amount of waste being generated in the first place.

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

The Globe says all 19 provisional licenses issued for recreational marijuana sales have been tied to local host agreements that appear to violate the Cannabis Control Commission guidelines.

California, which has the largest retail marijuana market in the country, has developed a network of pot distributors similar to Massachusetts’ beer distributor industry.(Wall Street Journal)

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has signed an agreement with a Native American gaming company that has designed or operated 30 casinos to partner with the tribe to develop its bingo hall on Martha’s Vineyard. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A study of convicts by Denver-based researchers makes a strong link between traumatic brain injury and incarceration. (U.S. News & World Report)