State Shouldn’t Pick

November 10, 2018

Why is the state Legislature so enamored with helping out National Grid’s rebellious union -- United Steel Workers Locals 12003 and 12012 -- in its ongoing dispute with its parent company?

And why should taxpayers bail out the union, after the union’s decision to wage an unceasing battle with National Grid management over a new collective bargaining agreement?

National Grid has successfully completed wage and benefit negotiations with its other unions in New York, Connecticut and elsewhere. Workers have compromised on the same deal, which includes pay raises, while union members pay a greater share of health care costs. But the Massachusetts steelworkers, who on average earn $110,000 a year, refuse to budge.

Well, if holding out is the local union strategy, fine. But Massachusetts lawmakers shouldn’t pick sides, and under no circumstances should taxpayers be forced into an unprecedented financial action to the union’s benefit.

The heat is on Democrats at the Statehouse who cater to union interests. Union workers are asking for investigations into National Grid operations, saying public safety is being compromised by the use of non-union workers. Is this legitimate or harassment? House Speaker Robert DeLeo has already caved to the steelworker lobby and it appears the Senate will likely follow next week.

But what are they caving to?

Last week, DeLeo received a report from the Baker administration on the financial impact National Grid’s lockout of 1,250 steelworkers is having on state finances. According to an analysis by Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan, the four-month lockout has cost an estimated $1.8 million in lost income tax revenue, $500,000 in potential lost sales taxes from purchases, and triggered more than $13.3 million in unemployment benefits.

It should be pointed out that unemployment benefits are from a trust fund financed by Bay State employers, including National Grid, and not taxpayers. And once the steelworkers’ 28 weeks of assistance runs out, it’s over -- unless the Legislature passes a special bill to keep benefits flowing to the steelworkers.

The only real cost to taxpayers so far comes from safety net assistance: a total of $90,000 a month for food stamps and MassHealth and MassConnector insurance costs received by locked-out employees who have enrolled in such programs.

We agree with DeLeo that these costs are “avoidable” if National Grid were to end the lockout.

But it’s not like the state is getting crushed with debts. The Legislature recently fell all over itself in spending a $500 million surplus.

The public should not be misled into thinking that the steelworkers deserve any more convenience from the Legislature than what they’ve already rightly received under the law.

Yes, we agree with DeLeo, Gov. Charlie Baker and other state leaders that National Grid should end the lockout and put its steelworkers back to work while negotiations continue.

Quite frankly, we can’t understand why National Grid is being so stubborn.

But this is an internal battle between a corporate giant and its single hold-out union. The state would be wise to refrain from taking any unprecedented action that would truly impact taxpayers.

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