^ locked-out gas workers, with Councillor Ed Flynn (c) and his father, former Mayor Ray Flynn (r)

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Once again, as with Verizon three years ago, we in the Boston area experience an impasse between management of a major utility and its line employees. T>his time there’s been a lockout, a management move that pre-empts a strike.What Is the problem ? Why have things reached this impasse ?Let’s take a look :

First of all, it’s hard to believe the company’s health care costs argument. It wants to pass some health care costs back to employees, costs that the company now bears. Why does it insist on this ? If costs are an issue, why can’t the company apply to the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for a rate increase ? As I see it, the company can’t burden its employees with cost sharing unless and until the PUC denies a rate increase.

Second, why is the company trying to move from its traditional Pension plan to a defined-benefit 401(k) plan for retirees ? Granted that it seeks defined-benefit plans only for new hires. Yet the firm’s existing workers are hardly mistaken to worry that their employer might seek to transfer their pension to a defined-benefit plan. This is no small worry. A defined-benefit plan limits the employer’s contribution to a specific dollar mount, whereas in a traditional pension plan the employer contribution increases as the employee’s paycheck increases. A defined-benefit plan would be a bad deal for any employee. For those still working, it shuts down the value of any pay increase they may receive. For all pension plan members, it leaves them vulnerable to inflation’s diminishing the value of the defined dollar amount. A defined-benefit plan only works in two cases : one, a firm is expecting decline; two, an employee who, as his or her pay increases, will, with a defined benefit plan, receive more money in his or her current paycheck rather than in the retirement account.

There may well be employees who prefer defined benefit’s preference for higher current paychecks; but that, in my view, is up to the employee, not the employer.

In both its health care and retirement matters,m national Grid seems to be telling us that it insists on reducing future obligations. Why so ? Does National Grid foresee declining revenues ? Declining need for employees ? If solar power and hydro energy take over,m do they compete with national Grid ? how so ? It’s still electricity. Can’t national Grid build and operate solar power f arms and hydro energy importation ? I would like to see National Grid management tell us what in their financial projections impel them to an action as drastic as a lockout.

You should read this very detailed look at the National Grid case in this article from :

As of this writing the lockout continues. City Councils and all sorts of higher level electeds have publicly backed the workers. I find their argument the better, on all fronts. If National Grid has a counter argument that it thinks crucial, let’s hear it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






^ Governor Baker tours new Orange line cars

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That the MBTA is renewing and improving is no longer in doubt. Bit by bit the improvements can now be seen and used. Shock and awe it has not been: advances have arrived one by one, singly, not every day or even every week: but if you take a look now at what has happened in the MBTA world these past two years especially, you’ll see a lot of fairly awesome stuff:

( a ) Green Line extension has at last begun, fully funded, from Lechmere to West Medford.

( b ) the entire MBTA has now been digitalized. You can see on the digital sign board where yhour train is and how soon it is coming. T announcements arrive via digitalized advertisements placards.

( c  ) new cars are arriving for the Orange Line and Green Line. The Red Line’s new cars will follow soon.

( d ) A Silver Line connection, from Chelsea and East Boston to the Seaport, opened up three months ago.

( e ) connection of the Blue Line to the Red Line — no simple matter — is now the subject of an organized conversation about how best to do it.

( f ) track repair and signaling upgrades continue. No part of MBTA improvement has had a harder time. Almost every part of the running system needs repair and upgrading. Billions of dollars are involved. Governor Baker has opined that it might take a decade to complete this work. That is no reason not to do it.

( g ) new work contracts have been negotiated between the Carmens’s Union and MBTA management. There was much talk about privatization, but in the end the union gave some and management gave some, and today labor issues seem solved — for now.

( h ) the Fiscal Control Board that, by legislation enacted in 2015, controls MBTA financial oversight, has put in place new safeguards against sloppy budgeting. Reform of the pension operation overseeing employees’ retirement continues.

( i ) electric buses will be operative within five years, and also buses of varying sizes.

( j ) fare collection on the Commuter Rail has been reconfigured.

( k ) non-stop Commuter Rail between Worcester and Boston is now in place.

None of this has happened easily or dramatically. There’s not much news in step by step events, at least until enough steps have been stepped that the public can finally see 1000 steps all at once. Yet it is right here, in the arena of MBTA renewal, that Governor Baker’s dogged, day after day involvement in progress at its most minute level of devil-in-the-details, that the effectiveness of his no-drama governing style merits most applause. When repairing any vast public service system, step by step always beats bull -in-a-china-shop. If Governor Baker gets called “Mister Step By Step,” I for one fully approve.

Of course much credit must also go to our legislature for giving Baker the legal tools to kick-start his T reforms.

(Disclosure: it’s no secret that I am a supporter of Governor Baker, his methods and his politics. That said, there are reasons why I support it. He has a large fan base, that likes him no matter what, but I do not consider myself a fan. My support derives from judgment. There are many matters, of high policy, in which Governor baker has taken positions that win my heart as well as my head, policy preferences, especially in the arena of civil rights, that make me proud of him. I have said as much to his top people. Yet at bottom, my support for Governor Baker is a judgement call, not a fan’s cheer. I hope that you will grant me that measure of objectivity. As a journalist, I never forget that I owe my readers calling things as I see them, no matter what.)

MBTA renewal continues. Not until all the transit lines have new cars and fully operative track and signalling will we be able to take a time out. The Red Line to Blue Line connection won’t be decided on any time soon. A link between North and South Stations remains controversial, with no resolution. Which company will eventually operate the Commuter rail remains to be decided. Too many Charlie Card machines in T stations do not work properly or lack maintenance. Signalling problems continue to delay too many T schedules. The c ars continue to lack wi-fi, and the first attempt to install it failed to win approval by the communities the T and Commuter Rail service. Most above-ground T stop shelters are not winterized at all — even the vast Wonderland and Wellington T stations lack it. The South Coast rail connection remains unbuilt. It’s terribly difficult, by bus, to go from one location to another that is cross-town rather than to or from Downtown.

It’s likely that the MBTA will always need renewal and expansion. Financing will never lose its importance. The T can never again be left for another time, or have its finances impeded by unsustainable debt impositions. Yet for now, things look pretty good. Progress has been made and is on its immediate way.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere