US workers of the London-listed National Grid this week (January 7) voted to accept a new agreement hammered out by unions, ending a lockout that left the 1,250 gas workers without work or health insurance for six months.
Workers Uniting, a global union of Unite and the United Steelworkers (USW) representing 2m workers in Canada, Ireland, the UK and the US, has congratulated members of USW Locals 12003 and 12012 in Massachusetts on their new contract.
Under the 6-year contract, current workers will receive significant wage and pension increases.
“Just as important, the agreement safeguards the future workforce and includes a number of provisions that will enhance the safety of our communities — including the creation of dozens of public-safety related jobs,” the USW locals noted in a statement.
The lockout began last June after workers refused to accept company proposals that would see their defined-benefit pension scheme closed to new members, wage protections slashed and the cost to staff of health insurance substantially increased.
After negotiations between management and the union broke down, the firm locked out workers from coming into work, cut off health insurance for them and their families and drafted in inexperienced temporary workers to maintain gas supplies.
But thanks in part to a coordinated campaign through Workers Uniting, the lockout has ended and the National Grid workers, who’ve suffered extreme hardship in the last six months, will return to work on January 21.
Unite national officer Peter McIntosh said he offered his “wholehearted congratulations to the National Grid workers who took a brave stand against their employer and endured such hardship without work or health insurance for months”.
“Through Workers Uniting, Unite supported our USW sisters and brothers during the lockout by assisting them in participating in a shareholders’ meeting in Birmingham where they voiced their concerns,” he explained. “We also met with the National Grid CEO in the UK and facilitated dialogue with National Grid management here. We were warmly welcomed when we sent a solidarity delegation to Boston last October.”
USW international president Leo Gerard thanked Unite for their support.
“The National Grid workers’ victory shows that international solidarity can stop global companies from undermining labour rights,” he said. “Through Workers Uniting, we will keep working to strengthen solidarity among workers at National Grid and other multinational companies.”
“This stunning victory demonstrates the vital importance of union campaigning on a global stage and it likewise shows the importance of Workers Uniting which facilitates such campaigning,” he said. “We must always remember that an injury to one worker – no matter where they live or work – is an injury to us all.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey highlighted the stark injustice faced by US workers whose access to healthcare is often dependent on the whim of their employers who provide it.
As UniteLive reported last year, for example, National Grid worker and USW member Brian Harvey was locked out of his job and denied health insurance the same week his son, who had recently been diagnosed with late-stage cancer, was scheduled for his first chemotherapy treatment.
“Unite members were horrified that a UK company would take advantage of weak US laws to cut off health care for workers’ families and children because of a labour dispute,” McCluskey said. “This underscores the need to defend our National Health Service against right-wing efforts to privatise health care through ‘free trade’ agreements.”