After more than six months being locked out of their jobs – some of them losing access to critical health care coverage’s – National Grid gas workers this week said it’s going to take time to rebuild the trust that was lost through the bitter, public battle between worker and management that raged all summer and fall.
“For many of us, there’s a lot of distrust because this was personal,” said Rocco Leo, an Everett resident who was a key member of the workers’ advocacy team. “There’s a lot of hard feelings. It’s going to take a while to repair that. It was the strategy from the beginning – they had the money to wait it out. They believed the economic and emotional strain on the families would be enough to give in to their unfair deals and lack of bargaining. If they bargained and negotiated fairly, this could have been done in June and completely avoided. That’s going to take time to reconcile.”
National Grid and the gas workers union had been at odds since June 2018 when the company locked the workers out instead of bargaining their contract. The lockout continued throughout the summer and fall, with very little movement on either side.
That all ended earlier this month when John Buonopane, president of USW Local 12012, and Joe Kirlyo, president of USW Local 12003, announced a tentative agreement on Jan. 3.
“National Grid began this lockout six months ago by demanding major concessions that would have negatively impacted our members, future employees and the safety of our communities,” they said. “Though this has been a lengthy and difficult process, we have emerged with a tentative agreement that provides important protections for our members and the Commonwealth’s future natural gas workforce. This agreement also includes a number of provisions that will enhance the safety of our communities, including the creation of dozens of new jobs focused on public safety.
“This lockout not only created significant hardships for residents, businesses and developers, it’s shined a spotlight on Massachusetts’ natural gas system,” the continued. “Our first priority is the safety of our members and the communities we serve, and we will continue to advocate strongly for provisions and oversight that promote and enhance safety.”
National Grid officials said they understood the situation has been challenging for everyone, but they said issues have been resolved for both.
“We recognize that our labor dispute has been challenging for our employees, our customers, and our communities,” said Marcy Reed, president of National Grid in Massachusetts. “Now that we have been able to move beyond our past challenges to reach an agreement that works for both sides, we are looking forward to our union employees’ return to work, and resuming normal operations for the benefit of the customers we are mutually motivated to serve.”
Leo said there was little movement until mid-November, when both sides started coming to the table to talk realistically.
He also said they were generally happy with the agreement, and got a lot of concessions for new hires. He said they have ensured guaranteed raises for everyone, and also for new hires, they will have defined contributions, retiree medical, medical disability, life insurance and a maximum of 26 weeks in sick time.
“There were major concessions on the company side and major gains we were able to obtain from the new hires,” he said. “Where they were in June and where they are now are night and day. There is a difference in this and what we wanted, but it’s a lot closer to what we wanted in June.”
Leo said the workers are very appreciative of all of the public officials and the support they got from the public. He said he was proud to see his hometown of Everett stood with him during the challenging time.
“The overwhelming support was great, especially in Everett,” he said. “They were one of the first cities to join the moratorium. The political support and municipal support was overwhelming. The thank you’s can’t be said enough.”
Workers are expected to return to work before the end of January with their new contract.