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US: locked out National Grid workers denied healthcare

19 July, 2018British multinational utility company National Grid has locked out 1,200 members of United Steelworkers Locals 12003 and 12012 and denied them access to healthcare.

National Grid, which distributes electricity and gas, locked out union members in Massachusetts on June 25 after contract negotiations broke down, and cut off workers’ access to healthcare.  The workers maintain natural gas supply lines to private homes, businesses and public buildings across the state.

When the existing contract expired on 24 June, the workers offered to continue to working under the same conditions while negotiations continued, but instead the company locked them out. The company is using managers and contractors to maintain gas supplies, a practice which the union has denounced as dangerous, as gas work requires experienced professionals.

After three weeks of lockout, councilors in a number of towns and cities across the state have voted to suspend non-emergency gas work due to public safety concerns, after more than twelve safety violations by inexperienced managers and contractors were reported to public authorities.

Despite making tremendous profits and benefiting from recent tax cuts, National Grid is determined to introduce changes that will make workers pay significantly more for their health coverage and cut benefits for new staff. The company recently received a tax cut from the Trump administration, and will raise additional income with a rates hike for consumers.

Brian Harvey, a member of Local 12003, recently found out that his young son had been diagnosed with stage three cancer. He was locked out of his job and his family’s healthcare insurance was cut off in the same week his son was scheduled for his first chemotherapy treatment.

He said:

“You’re basically just a number to them. What I would say to National Grid is, ‘how greedy can you be? And is it worth it to you, the more money you put in your pocket, is it worth it to hurt all these people?’”

IndustriALL Global Union energy director Diana Junquera Curiel said:

“Cutting health insurance is despicable behaviour by the company. They are threatening family health in an attempt to force their employees to accept worse conditions.

“This is a terrible example of heartless corporate greed and reckless disregard for public safety. National Grid needs to reinstate health insurance, end the lockout and negotiate in good faith with its workforce. IndustriALL and its affiliates will remain firm in their support for these workers.”

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches sent a solidarity letter to the USW.

National Grid was formed when UK electricity generation and distribution was privatized in 1990. The company is listed on the London (LSE) and New York (NYSE) stock exchanges. In the US, it provides gas and electricity to communities in the North East after acquiring a number of regional utilities companies.