Haverhill Imposes Moratorium on Permits for Most National Grid Projects

Haverhill City Councilor John A. Michitson. (WHAV News file photograph by Jay Saulnier.)

Haverhill City Councilor John A. Michitson. (WHAV News photograph by Jay Saulnier)

Haverhill City Council will approve no non-essential or non-emergency projects for National Grid until it ends an employee lockout and reinstates the workers’ health insurance benefits.

Councilors, with support of Mayor James J. Fiorentini, voted unanimously Tuesday to withhold permits for anything but emergency projects to show their displeasure with the company’s actions.

They were especially angered by the company’s decision to cancel medical insurance for the employees and their families.

Council President John A. Michitson was blunt in his observation.

“It’s pretty pathetic, actually.”

Christine Milligan, a spokeswoman for National Grid, told WHAV that employees can keep their company benefits at their own expense.

“For the safety of our employees and customers, National Grid will not allow United Steel Workers 12003 and 12012-04 to work without a valid contract,” Milligan said. “During the time they are not working on our property or for our customers, the Locals are ineligible for compensation and benefits paid by the company.”

Keith Rice of Topsfield, a representative for Steelworkers Local 12012-4 told the council that management crews have responded to reports of gas leaks, but without inspectors on hand to supervise and personnel who aren’t familiar with the requirements of the task, there are problems with the repairs.

The stand-in crews are making too many holes in the streets and cutting them too large, Rice said. He suggested attempted repairs on Hilldale Avenue and Winter Street may have failed and said it’s possible that gas is still leaking in both locations.

He asked that Haverhill join many Massachusetts communities that are declaring a moratorium on National Grid projects that require municipal approval.

Council Vice President Thomas J. Sullivan said the international energy giant makes enough money to continue paying for workers’ health insurance while they’re on strike.

“National Grid made $9.1 billion in operating profit last year. Not only do you guys deserve a raise,” he said to Rice, “but the customers deserve a rate cut.”

Fiorentini, who said he has visited the National Grid workers’ picket line three times since the lockout, stands with the union members, calling the company’s actions outrageous.

Councilor Michael S. McGonagle agreed.

“I think it’s reprehensible for a company of this size to cut off your medical benefits and lock you out. I don’t think that’s bargaining in good faith.”

Milligan said the unions have been unwilling to compromise on issues of health insurance, retirement benefits and wages.

Notwithstanding this current work stoppage, National Grid has never walked away from the bargaining table with the unions,” she said.

Councilor William S. Macek suggested the council rewrite a resolution by Braintree officials, adapting it to Haverhill, and forwarding it to “all appropriate parties,” to show how the board feels about National Grid’s actions.

Barrett said the council should make sure to send a copy to the state Department of Public Utilities.