After failing to agree to a new work contract, approximately 1,200 National Grid employees have been locked out of their jobs, costing them wages and benefits.
Union members of the United Steel Workers Local 12012 and 12003 rejected a deal from the utility company last month. As soon as their previous contract expired at midnight on June 24, the company informed them that they could not pay employees without an agreement in place.
"There's over 1,000 of us, just working class, who just want to go back to work," said employee Brian Harvey.
On the same day Harvey learned they would be locked out, he also discovered his 21-month-old son had cancer. Without insurance from work, he scrambled to get his family enrolled in a state-run health plan.
"Emotional, scary," said Harvey of the last few weeks. "There are so many other families affected by this and we are all willing to work."
But before they can work, they have to reach an agreement. Thus far, the contention has largely been over benefits for new hires. Under the most recent proposal, National Grid would increase some health care costs and replace pensions plans for new employees with a 401k.
"How can you be so cruel?" asked Joe Kirylo, president of the USW Steelworkers Local 12003.
In their third week of the lockout, Kirylo said temporary workers brought in to fill the absence of employees have hurt longtime employees of the company.
At this time, his members have no plans to change their demands.
"They do not deserve to have their benefits cut by National Grid when they have made so much money, billions and billions of dollars," Kirylo argued.
However, the company has countered that the unions are rejecting terms that the majority of their employees in the state and around the country have accepted.
"We remain committed to bargaining in good faith with the unions, with the aim of reaching a mutually agreeable outcome—as soon as possible. We will continue to make the company's negotiating team available seven days a week until we reach an agreement," company spokeswoman Christine Milligan wrote in a statement. "In the meantime, employees may elect to retain their benefits through the company at their own expense."
A second bargaining session has been scheduled between the company and the unions for Tuesday, July 17.