September 24, 2018

DPU, National Grid union to discuss complaints

Photo | Courtesy

The union representing locked out National Grid steelworkers plans to meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday with state regulators to discuss a long list of safety complaints filed over the summer in connection with the on-the-job activity of their replacement workers.

United Steelworkers Locals 12003 and 12012, which represent about 1,250 workers, have filed more than 100 gas safety complaints and held scores of protests all summer. A union official confirmed the meeting is planned at the Department of Public Utilities offices at South Station, but could not provide the time of the gathering.

The meeting comes as Baker administration and local officials ramp up a 60-day plan to restore natural gas services to Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence neighborhoods rocked by a series of gas-related explosions and fires on Sept. 13.

The department has told the union that it is investigating every complaint but the department's capacity to ensure the safety of natural gas infrastructure has come under scrutiny recently, with critics citing a shortage of inspectors.

A 2017 gas state program report by the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration gave Massachusetts a 97.4 rating and said the state inspected all type of operators and inspection units in accordance with time intervals. However, the agency also noted that due to attrition of inspection staff in 2017 and 2018, the program was at risk of not meeting time intervals but taking steps to fill vacant positions.

"It is now clear that Governor Baker's administration knew that there were too few pipeline inspectors at the Department of Public Utilities before the explosions in the Merrimack Valley on September 13th. What else has the Governor failed to disclose relating to his Department of Public Utilities?" Jay Gonzalez, the Democratic nominee for governor, said in a statement Sunday. "Governor Baker owes the public a full accounting of his administration's oversight of the 20,000 miles of natural gas pipelines across Massachusetts, and he needs to explain whether his lack of oversight contributed to the disaster in the Merrimack Valley."


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