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Amid Lockout, Mass. AG Calls For Probe Into National Grid Over Safety Concerns

The Massachusetts attorney general's office wants National Grid investigated.

The state's top law enforcement office is asking regulators to look into whether the state's largest utility is complying with safety and quality standards as 1,250 union gas workers remain locked out of their jobs amid stalled contract negotiations.

The attorney general's office sent a letter Tuesday to the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) asking the agency to launch a public investigation.

Unsafe working conditions — including incorrect use of equipment, and failure to comply with state and federal regulations — are among more than 50 complaints the attorney general's office said it has received since the lockout began in June.

Many complaints come from union workers, who have been showing up at job sites and recording what they say are safety violations by their replacements.

"The people of Massachusetts should know what's going on and what's happening, and I think the only real way they're gonna find out is with an investigation and public hearings," said John Buonopane, president of United Steelworkers Local 12012.

National Grid has redeployed 700 contract workers and put 600 supervisors into the field to replace the locked-out union workers.

The attorney general's office said many of these replacement workers are doing tasks that aren't part of their normal duties.

"As the lockout continues into its third month, it appears increasingly unlikely that replacement workers and managers can continue to take on these additional tasks and shifts without significant disruption," the letter from the attorney general's office reads.

National Grid said safety is its top priority regardless of the composition of its workforce.

"We are fully confident in the work that our continuation workforce has performed and will continue to perform until this situation is resolved," National Grid spokesperson Danielle Williamson said in a statement Tuesday.

Williamson said the company has completed thousands of jobs without incident throughout the lockout, "while also offering to engage in serious contract discussions, any day of the week, that will bring our union colleagues back to work."

"The DPU has questioned us on alleged safety violations reported by union employees, and we will continue to work with the agency to address any safety concerns they may have," Williamson said.

In addition to safety concerns, the attorney general's office asked DPU to look into whether National Grid customers are getting what they pay for, and the company isn't passing any costs linked to the lockout onto customers.

"It is important for customers to know what part of the service they are paying for is being done and how much money [National Grid] is spending on the lockout," the letter from the attorney general's office reads.

Williamson said National Grid is not planning to pass on "any unreasonable incremental operating costs" associated with the lockout to customers.

Now in their 12th week, contract negotiations between National Grid and its two workers unions are ongoing. The groups are scheduled to next meet on Thursday.

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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