Mayor Martin Walsh said this week he would help National Grid gas workers in their 11-week lockout battle if asked by the workers to assist in any way.
The lockout of two United Steelworkers unions in the gas line division of National Grid has gone on for 11 weeks, and all of it seemed to come to a head on Monday morning, Labor Day, in Back Bay’s Park Plaza – where the workers made a strong showing and stole the show outside the Greater Boston Labor Council’s Labor Day Breakfast.
Mayor Martin Walsh took a detour from going into the Park Plaza hotel on Monday to visit with the hundreds of workers gathered in the Plaza. In Boston, not many have spoken about the lockout, though National Grid workers have been present picketing many jobs around the city.
Later, Walsh said he has offered his assistance to the workers in any way that is helpful, but by Monday, had not been asked by the workers to help.
“Being out long-term hurts both the worker and the consumer, and Mayor Walsh hopes they come to a quick resolution,” read a statement from his office.
The politics of the matter shone through clearly on Monday morning during the rally in the street with the state’s political elite, but another piece of the puzzle is the day-to-day reality of having lost health insurance, paychecks and having to stage labor’s most ardent fight of the past decade.
For locked out worker Rocky Leo, who was standing tall in the crowd down in Boston Monday, the lockout has a human angle – and he said that is exactly what the company is trying to exploit.
“They’re banking on us not getting by – we workers going under and losing our health care and defaulting on our mortgages so we have to get in,” he said. “It’s a struggle. It’s been 11 weeks since we were locked out. It’s really hard on many of us and that’s their strategy. They figure we’ll give in.
“Five days in they took our health care away,” he continued. “We had a guy who had just had his leg amputated, and people with diabetes who needed care and children who are being treated for cancer. That’s what we have here.”
The lock out started earlier this summer during contract negotiations with two unions in the National Grid gas operations division.
On Tuesday, Sept. 4, National Grid and the two unions were to come back to the bargaining table. The results of those meetings were not reported immediately, but National Grid said they wanted to resolve the lock out.
“To end the lockout, which is a goal we share with our union employees, we need to have serious, productive conversations about reaching an agreement,” read a statement by National Grid on Tuesday, Sept. 4. “Since June 25, National Grid has communicated to the unions that we remain willing to meet seven days a week to reach an agreement on all outstanding issues. Through a federal mediator, they have so far provided eight dates for meetings that have occurred and we are meeting with them again today, September 4.”
National Grid said they wanted to have a fair contract, but that also meant being responsible to the ratepayers. They said what the union characterize as a drive for company profits at employee expense is actually an effort to preserve reasonable rates for customers in Boston and beyond.
National Grid said the major sticking point is the company’s proposed benefit package that includes a new defined contribution 401(k) retirement plan. That new plan would apply only to new employees hired on or after June 25, 2018.
National Grid said they had negotiated away from pension plans to 401(k) plans with at least 16 other unions representing 84 percent of the company’s employees. National Grid also said the package is consistent with proposals that the Steelworkers have accepted in Massachusetts with all other public utilities.
National Grid said it doesn’t believe customers should have to pay for outdated benefits when most of those customers don’t enjoy such benefits themselves.