Since June more than 1,200 workers have been locked out of their jobs by National Grid as part of a collective bargaining dispute. This lockout has far-reaching impacts not only in Winthrop and Revere but across the Commonwealth, where moratoriums on gas connections are delaying new development projects. Real estate developers report their concern of the effect of these delays to the larger economy. Many of these workers report that their unemployment benefits will expire in mid-January. It is with this context in mind that the House moved a bill to address these issues and with the goal of ending the lockout.
As we head into the holiday season, more than a thousand hardworking individuals – and their families – are in economic peril because of a wholly avoidable business decision by a public utility. This public utility has chosen to lockout its employees as a negotiation tactic, the cost of which is being subsidized by taxpayers and the Commonwealth’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
Such reckless behavior by any large employer would be appalling, but it is even more egregious when undertaken by a public utility that has been granted a territorial monopoly by the Commonwealth. When we grant a public utility, we expect that companies bear implicit responsibilities because of the special status conferred upon them.
We are quickly approaching the runout date for unemployment benefits for locked out employees. These individuals, who have already been living off of reduced income, will be left with no source of income. This is unconscionable.
The Commonwealth cannot sit idly by while a large, international conglomerate volitionally lockout employees in a transparent effort to enhance its leverage in a negotiation, while passing the on the cost for this misguided strategy to the taxpayers and ratepayers of the Commonwealth.”
The House of Representatives this week took up a bill that would require the Secretary of Labor and the Director of the Department of Unemployment Assistance to establish a separate benefit program for any individual who is involuntarily unemployed, in an instance of a lockout, during the negotiation of a collective bargaining contract.
Any eligible individual whose unemployment benefits have been exhausted will be eligible for the benefits payable from the program at the same weekly benefit rate as provided for under our current unemployment law and until the resolution of the lockout.
Importantly, all costs of the program will be assessed on the employer who has locked out their employees. The proposal specifically precludes an employer from passing on the costs of the program to ratepayers.
We need solutions, and the House has acted. We hope the Administration and our Republican colleagues will join us in protecting these workers.
Robert A. DeLeo is Speaker of the House for the Massachusetts House of Representatives.