^ 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




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