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By Andy Metzger

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 12, 2018.....One gas workers union has authorized a strike and another plans to vote Wednesday as union safety professionals rage against the utility National Grid amid contract negotiations.

The utility wants to be able to outsource a broad swath of responsibilities, according to union leaders who rallied their members outside the State House on Tuesday morning.

"We want to continue to do the work we do well, preventing gas incidents to protect the public," said John Buonopane, president of the United Steel Workers Local 12012. "We don't want low-wage contractors who are one-day out marking your gas pipe and the next day delivering pizzas. And no disrespect to people who deliver pizzas. They work hard."

Local 12012 voted unanimously to authorize a strike on June 4, and Local 12003 plans to vote Wednesday night, according to Joe Kirylo, president of Local 12003.

"It's not easy to go on strike, but it's a necessary thing when the time comes. They understand that. We also understand that," Kirylo said.

A heavily regulated utility that offers gas service to much of Massachusetts, National Grid in January used savings from a federal tax law to lower its rate proposal affecting natural gas prices for 908,000 Bay State customers. The company provides gas in 116 communities.

"The company is committed to negotiating in good faith and looks forward to bargaining to reach a fair and equitable contract that balances the needs of both our employees and our customers," National Grid said in a statement. "We will have no further comment for now, as we prefer to do our negotiations at the bargaining table and not in a public forum."

The current contract with the two locals will expire on June 24 at 11:59 p.m.

Under the current agreement, the utility can use contractors for building new mains, hooking up new gas customers, and in certain other situations where the fulltime workforce is maxed-out, according to the labor leaders.

Union workers want the company to hire more inspectors so that experienced professionals can prevent leaks and other hazards from the pipes that carry the flammable and potentially poisonous gas that heats homes and warms ovens.

Stephaun Gonsalves, a National Grid technician from Salem, New Hampshire, said that workers like himself, usually after a weekend, are often called out to fix leaks in pipes that contractors buried.

"They leave a lot of things leaking," Gonsalves told the News Service.

The rally drew Reps. Tackey Chan, Byron Rushing, Mike Connolly, Danielle Gregoire, Paul Brodeur, and Mike Day and Sens. Jamie Eldridge, Walter Timilty and Nick Collins. Boston City Councilor Ed Flynn was also there.

Kirylo called organized labor the "tip of the spear" to protect the country's middle class, and Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman said the gas workers' situation is part of a larger theme around the nation.

"This is America's story as we come into this new century. Screw workers, steal the profits, give bonuses to the executives, and let 'em beg for health care," Tolman said. "Well brothers and sisters, the day is up. Union is going to sit with union. We gotta understand that the gas workers problem is America's problem."

The Senate on Thursday plans to take up a bill aimed at shifting Massachusetts electricity generation towards greater reliance on renewable sources such as wind and solar.


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