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North Suburban News

National Grid Workers Struggle With Loss of Benefits During Lockout

Dec 11, 2018 06:52PM ● By Dan Marra

WAKEFIELD – Christmas Day will mark six months since 1,200 NationalGrid workers have been locked out of their jobs. The timing of the lockout couldn’t have come at a worse time for Jim Ruelle.

Along with every other locked out employee, the Woburn resident lost his health insurance when the union and National Grid could not agree to a contract extension. While Ruelle, who runs the stock room at the gas company, is in good health, his wife, Patrice, suffered a variety of ailments since the spring – from a ruptured bowel to having double bypass surgery on her heart. 

“My daughter needs insulin to live,” Ruelle said.

And while the steel workers emergency insurance fund covered his wife’s insurance, she’s been unable to attend her rehabilitation appointments as they don’t have the funds to cover the out-of-pocket expenses which can range in the thousands of dollars.

“This is very frustrating, there was no need for them to lock us out,” Ruelle said. “[National Grid] abandoned us. They don’t care about us, this is total greed. This is a company that made more than $3 billion in profit."

The main disagreement between the two sides focuses on health insurance and pensions for new hires.

A spokesperson for National Grid said that the organization is “focused on ending the lockout by reaching an agreement with the unions at the bargaining table.”

According to National Grid, both sides will start meeting on Monday, Dec. 17 to negotiate a new contract and have agreed to keep talking until an agreement is reached.

As for Eric Doren, the damage has already been done.

The Wakefield resident was forced to pay $2,600 a month for Cobra coverage to deal with follow-up appointments stemming from a decades-old cancer diagnosis, as well as to cover his wife’s specialist appointments as she deals with early stages of multiple sclerosis.

 “We’re lucky that we’re able to afford this coverage, but there are others that I work with that are suffering far worse than we are,” Doren said. “I know guys that have been diagnosed with cancer, and trying to deal with that without health insurance. It’s infuriating when the rug was just pulled out from underneath us.”

The state is now looking at legislation that would force National Grid to provide health insurance to the locked out workers.

“The bill as drafted, singles out and attempts to punish one particular Massachusetts company, which is a bad precedent for the Legislature to pursue, and raises significant legal issues,” said a National Grid spokesperson.

But for Doren, the biggest frustration has been the danger National Grid has put its customers in. Working in the Instrumentation & Regulation department, one of Doren’s job is to ensure pipes are not overpressurized – the very mistakes that led to the disaster in the Merrimack Valley, as well as in Woburn.

“I never saw anything like what I saw in Lawrence,” Doren said. “I knew right away that it was overpressurization.”

According to Doren, if his crew wasn’t locked out, they would have been able to assist Columbia Gas .

“One of the reason’s Columbia’s response was so lax was because they had to have their crews coming from Springfield to help,” Doren said. “We cover abutting communities and could’ve helped in a heartbeat. That was very frustrating.”

This past summer Doren had planned on taking his wife on an Alaskan cruise for their 10 year anniversary, but with the lockout those plans were placed on hold. The father of two is looking forward to the end of the lockout and getting back to some type of normalcy.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would go on for this long,” Doren said. “We have money saved, we’ve taken out a home equity, we need to worry about my kids dance and swimming lessons. It’s been six months. But we will continue to hold the line because we know we're in the right."

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