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North Suburban News

Stoneham Puts a Stop to National Grid Work

Aug 26, 2018 12:55PM ● By Dan Marra

It’s been nearly two months since National Grid locked out 1,200 gas workers from coming to work. As the steel workers and National Grid continue to disagree over pensions and healthcare benefits, the steel workers’ union has been making the case in towns and municipalities across the Commonwealth for communities to put a stop to any new work National Grid has planned.

The concern, according to Joe Cincotta, vice chair of the union, is safety. It’s why Stoneham, along with other towns and cities – Boston, Lowell, to name a few – has recently issued a moratorium on all new work from National Grid. The order essentially halts any work National Grid has planned moving forward, with the exception of emergency repairs.  

According to Cincotta, the contractors and workers that are replacing the union, lack the experience, knowledge and expertise to adequately replace and install new pipes.

“Right now, they’re taking front line supervisors, people from the corporate office, who work office jobs, give them a quick refresher and send them out to do the job, along with the subcontractors,” Cincotta said. “A lot of these supervisors, while they might have been with the company for a while, have no real hands on experience working on replacing gas lines.”

National Grid has plans to replace a number of gas pipes across the state, replacing older metal piping with a more reliable plastic material. But it’s not just the replacement of the pipes Cincotta and the unions have concerns about.

Since a number of the contractors have been brought on to replace the union workers are from out-of-state, they are also responsible for marking outlines for where the pipes are currently located. According to Cincotta, many of the steel workers  that are currently locked out, were the ones that laid those pipes 20 years ago.

“When people call DigSafe, it’s our workers that are called to inspect the area,” Cincotta said. “Now you have people coming from different states with no knowledge of our infrastructure making these decisions. It’s just not safe.”

Shelly MacNeill, vice chair of the Stoneham Board of Selectmen, cited an increase in complaints to the Department of Public Utilities and her concern over the safety of residents, as well as the loss of income and benefits for residents of Stoneham for why she supports the town’s decision to place a moratorium on National Grid.

“The safety is a definite concern,” MacNeill said. “When workers are bargaining in good faith and they’re the ones going out every day putting themselves on the line and they’re the ones literally in the trenches, I think it’s important for companies to have some respect and to continue that negotiation in good faith. You have families living here in Stoneham that may have a hard time paying their bills cause they were shut out of the job they were willing to go to every day.”

However, National Grid in a statement has said that its employees are properly trained and qualified to do the work that is required. But the company had no comment regarding the increasing number of moratoriums across the state.

“All who are executing gas safety and maintenance work through our work continuation plan meet all federal and state requirements and have demonstrated the competencies to work on the gas system,” National Grid said in a statement.

With an aging infrastructure in place, Cincotta argues that this is not the best time for National Grid to be locking out the steel workers.

“You can take for granted what you do every day until you start seeing someone else try and do it,” Cincotta said. “We should be out there doing those jobs, we’re the ones that are out their protecting the public on a daily basis.”

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