Pols putting pressure on National Grid

Momentum seems to be building on Beacon Hill, particularly in the generally more conservative House, to hold a hearing on precedent-setting legislation that would thrust the state into the middle of a private labor dispute.

The legislation, filed by Rep. James O’Day of West Boylston, targets National Grid, which locked out 1,250 steelworkers in June when the company and the union were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract. The bill would require Grid to provide health insurance benefits to its locked-out workers and deprive the utility of public funds to maintain or upgrade its gas distribution system and rate increases for its gas and electricity distribution businesses. All of the bill’s provisions would automatically expire when the lockout ends.

O’Day, who discussed his legislation on The Codcast, said he spent 25 years as a social worker and a member and officer of the Service Employees International Union. He said he was shocked that National Grid would just walk away from the bargaining table.

“I just don’t think that’s the way we should be conducting business here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” he said. “I felt so strongly about what was going on there that I thought I needed to file a bill that would at least, hopefully, get the attention of some of my colleagues, certainly get the attention of National Grid, and hopefully force them back – maybe force isn’t a great word – but at least get them back to the bargaining table.”

O’Day’s bill, filed in July when the Legislature was rushing to wrap up its business for the year, didn’t go anywhere initially. National Grid officials say the bill shouldn’t go anywhere. They say the federal National Labor Relations Act preempts state laws that seek to intervene in federally regulated labor disputes. The utility also says O’Day’s bill violates the US Constitution because it seeks to punish a specific company. (Nevertheless, the utility added another firm – Kearney, Donovan & McGee – to its already well-stocked lobbying payroll on July 2.)

In September, a series of fires and explosions rocked the gas distribution system of Columbia Gas in the Merrimack Valley. That disaster, and a subsequent over-pressurization situation that was resolved without incident in Woburn – part of National Grid’s territory – fed a narrative that the state’s gas distribution system was unsafe and Grid’s replacement workers might not be up to the job.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration responded by barring National Grid from doing most field work and the governor himself pressured the utility to put the steelworkers back on the job. Attorney General Maura Healey piled on as well, raising concerns that Grid was failing to comply with safety and quality standards with its workers locked out.

O’Day’s bill suddenly popped up on the House floor on October 25 and was referred to the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. The Senate waited until last Tuesday to admit the bill, setting the stage for a hearing on the legislation as early as this week.

The politics surrounding O’Day’s bill are interesting. As you might expect, union groups are supportive while business interests are opposed. Associated Industries of Massachusetts earlier this month raised concerns about the legislation, saying it sets a “dangerous precedent” for government to take sides in negotiations between companies and their workers. “If lawmakers interject in the National Grid lockout, what would prevent them from also becoming involved in disputes involving manufacturing, service, or technology companies across the commonwealth?” the business group asked in a blog post.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, normally aligned with business, has met with the steelworkers, taken a personal interest in O’Day’s legislation, pressured National Grid, and pressed for a hearing. The liberal Senate, meanwhile, has been a bit standoffish, showing more interest in scheduling oversight hearings on pipeline safety in general than targeting National Grid for its lockout.

The measure is unlikely to get a vote before the end of the year, in part because in informal legislative sessions the objection of just one lawmaker is enough to stop a bill. A hearing – and the pressure it would bring to bear on National Grid – appears to be the goal of the union’s supporters on Beacon Hill.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

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Advocates of the Community Preservation Act, which provides funds for affordable housing and open space preservation through a property tax surcharge, are hopeful for an increase in the state contribution after Gov. Charlie Baker signaled he is open to an adjustment. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The heated battle between Mayor Jasiel Correia and the nonprofit Fall River Office of Economic Development ramped up further when the Fall River Redevelopment Authority voted to fire the private organization’s director, who has an ongoing feud with Correia, as the city’s contracted manager while he was out of town. (Herald News)

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh declined to say who he voted for for the gubernatorial race and deflected a question on his own political future in a wide-ranging interview with Keller@Large that included his support for US Rep.Nancy Pelosi to become House Speaker.

Framingham officials are considering changing zoning restrictions to allow in-law apartments as a way to ease the city’s housing shortage. (MetroWest Daily News)

A popular East Bridgewater playground that was shut down three years ago over concerns of arsenic leaching from the pressure treated wood still sits in disrepair while officials determine whether the town, which leases the land from the state, is responsible for demolition and clean-up. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump’s interview Sunday with Fox News indicated a growing disconnect between him and the military he has counted on as the base of his support as he derided a revered retired admiral and indicated retired general John Kelly will likely soon leave as chief of staff. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

US Sen. Bill Nelson conceded defeat Sunday to Florida Gov. Rick Scott after a manual recount confirmed a 10,000 vote victory for the GOP nominee. (New York Times)

Steve Koczela analyzes the state GOP’s election flop, raising the question of whether candidates needed to be more like the party’s one bright light — Gov. Charlie Baker. (CommonWealth)

The 2020 Democratic primary for president in New Hampshire could feature a boatload of New Englanders. (Boston Globe) Former Globe editorial writer Thomas Gagen beseeches Elizabeth Warren to not be among them.

Incoming Democratic congresswoman Lori Trahan says she plans to support Nancy Pelosi for House speaker. (Lowell Sun)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A state law allows tenants to withhold rent if landlords fail to provide heat and hot water but residents in communities affected by the Columbia Gas explosions and outages are making the payments anyway for fear of angering landlords, who can get reimbursement from the gas company for lost rents. (Eagle Tribune)

Rest homes across the state are getting financially squeezed, with a number of them closing their doors in recent years. (Boston Globe)

Marriott hotels and local striking workers reach agreement to settle their standoff. (WBUR)

An Easton couple unknowingly hired a contractor to build their new house, who allegedly bilked millions from other homeowners and subcontractors, and is now out thousands of dollars with an incomplete home because they became victims as well. (The Enterprise) CommonWealth had a story in the 2017 Winter issue looking at shady contractors and a state-run program that gives homeowners a false sense of protection.

Columnist Clive McFarland says Worcester’s new minor league baseball team needs to up its game when it comes its commitment to doing business with minority- and women-owned firms. (Telegram & Gazette)

The price of mutton has hit an all-time high as demand spikes with a new generation of diners in the US and around the world developing a taste for the gamy red sheep meat. (Wall Street Journal)

EDUCATION

The Boston School Department announces new discipline policies that ban suspending any students in kindergarten, first, or second grade. (WBUR)

Some Boston students are planning a walkout for today to protest announced school closings and violence in the city. (Boston Herald)

Former New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg announces a $1.8 billion donation to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to ensure admissions his alma mater will forever be need-blind and in an op-ed called on state, federal, and private officials to spread the effort to all colleges and universities. (New York Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

State officials have confirmed a second case of measles in Lowell, which they say is unrelated to the first, but is in line with a trend around the country of a growing number of cases of the disease with rate of vaccinations declining. (Lowell Sun)

The state’s digital health care sector is not exactly going gangbusters. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

A couple walking on tracks in Wareham were struck and killed Saturday night by a Cape Cod Central Railroad train carrying first responders and their families on a practice run for a scenic holiday excursion. (Cape Cod Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Stephen Conant proposes a way to generate more competition among offshore wind developers — build one transmission line out to the wind farm area. (CommonWealth)

A Globe editorial says the state needs to end the moratorium on new natural gas hookups — and impose new safety guidelines, suggesting a law requiring that a certified engineer review any utility work plans.

Increased diligence by the town and commercial shellfish harvesters in Wellfleet, one of the state’s biggest producers, has decreased bacteria and increased safety which has raised demand for oysters and clams. (Cape Cod Times)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

The doors will open tomorrow on the state’s new marijuana sector, as retail stores prepare to open in Leicester and Northampton. (CommonWealth) The script has already been set for who will be the first customers, with Iraq war veteran and medical marijuana advocate Stephen Mandile tapped to make the first purchase at the Leicester outlet while Northampton’s mayor, David Narkewicz will plunk down his payment at that store in that city. (Boston Globe)

Marijuana lobbyist Jim Smith says the state’s pot legislation is exposing a generation gap in municipal government. (CommonWealth) One the eve of the start of marijuana sales, Joe Fitzgerald offers one last warning of the mistake being made. (Boston Herald)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The New York Times explores the mystery of James “Whitey” Bulger’s prison murder, raising more questions than answers.

A New Jersey man will appear in federal court in Worcester this morning after officials say he and an accomplice used a blowtorch to break into Target stores in several states, including two in Massachusetts, to steal nearly $200,000 in electronic merchandise. (MassLive)