Massachusetts Communities Halt Non-Emergency Gas Work, Demand Scrutiny Following National Grid Lockout of Experienced Workers

Media Contact: Michael Sherry, msherry@oneillandassoc.com, 617-646-1026 

Citing public safety concerns, more Massachusetts cities and towns are halting or delaying non-emergency gas work following National Grid’s lockout of 1,200 of its most experienced employees.

Among the communities temporarily stopping or reviewing non-emergency natural gas projects are Somerville, Lowell, Braintree, Medford, Malden and Haverhill. These decisions come as the gas workers of USW Locals 12003 and 12012 continue to observe significant safety violations by management and replacement contractors after National Grid decided to lock out its experienced workers on June 24th.

In Haverhill, city councilors voiced their support for gas workers, reportedly calling National Grid’s lockout “rotten,” “pathetic” and “reprehensible.”

In Lowell, city councilors also raised safety concerns during a recent city council meeting. “I don’t like workers being locked out from their jobs…I have concerns about employees and oversight. There are some issues of risk,” Lowell City Councilor Rodney Elliot reportedly said during that meeting.

In Somerville, the city issued a directive to staff stating that no non-emergency permit should be issued to National Grid without undergoing an additional stringent review process. Specifically, it cited concerns that an “outside contractor under supervision of National Grid staff unfamiliar with our standard operating procedure would likely create significant constituent impacts and could potentially result in unsafe conditions.”

And the town of Braintree issued a resolution in support of gas workers that calls for increased safety inspections and no new permits for gas construction projects during the lockout.

“We’re pleased that elected leaders are stepping up to protect public safety while National Grid is acting so irresponsibly. Massachusetts cities and towns deserve to have natural gas work performed by experienced employees rather than inexperienced replacement contractors,” said USW Local 12003 President Joe Kirylo. “We hope more communities will enact similar policies, particularly since this public safety risk was 100 percent avoidable. We offered to extend our current contract so experienced employees can continue to work during negotiations, but National Grid refused.”

In all, more than a dozen safety violations have been reported to the Department of Public Utilities since the beginning of the lockout.

“Our members have observed and reported serious safety violations that threaten contractors and residents, so it makes sense that elected officials want to take steps to minimize the risks to their communities,” said John Buonopane, President of USW Local 12012. “These safety violations committed by replacement contractors are very real and communities are rightly concerned, especially since the lockout is completely preventable. It’s deeply concerning that National Grid is willing to jeopardize public safety so needlessly and recklessly.”

A variety of safety violations have been observed since the lockout began. In Lowell, a third-party contractor was twice observed excavating within 200 feet of a National Grid high pressure regulator pit, and without a National Grid inspector onsite. A backhoe in Malden operated by a company contractor was photographed driving on roads without registration, license plates, or any identifying information.

In Amesbury, National Grid replacement workers filled emergency valves with sand in violation of the company’s own operations and maintenance manual. These valves must be kept clear so that gas can be quickly shut off in case of emergency.

USW Locals 12003 and Local 12012 represent about 1,250 gas workers in more than 85 Massachusetts cities and towns. It’s unclear why National Grid chose to lockout workers in 2018. The unions’ previous contract with National Grid expired in February 2016. A new contract was not ratified until five months later in July. There was no lockout during that time because National Grid agreed to the unions’ contract extension offer, which allowed experienced workers to continue doing their jobs.

“It’s disturbing that National Grid would be so eager to lock out the experienced workers who are responsible every day for delivering competent, safe and reliable gas service,” added Kirylo. “National Grid made billions of dollars in profits last year and the company just got a massive tax cut from the Trump Administration. Despite all of that, the company still refuses to negotiate a fair contract that protects public safety and quality, middle class jobs.”

For more information, please visit www.lockoutatnationalgrid.com

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