BOSTON – As union leadership continues to call out what it says are dangerous gas leaks in National Grid territory, gas workers locked out of their jobs by the company amid a long contract dispute have been cleared to help with restoration of the gas system in the Merrimack Valley.
On Monday, the heads of United Steelworkers Locals 12003 and 12012 sent to the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), the governor's office and the attorney general's office a list of what it said are "thirty grade one gas leaks ... the most dangerous type of gas leak." Joe Kirylo, president of Local 12003, said the unions purchased their own combustible gas indicators to survey for leaks.
The alleged gas leaks identified by the unions are in Boston -- specifically Dorchester, Roxbury, South Boston and Jamaica Plain -- and Quincy, Whitman and Abington.
"I am convinced more than ever that if National Grid is not stopped from their reckless behavior there will be a gas explosion in the future," Kirylo wrote in an email Monday night to union members and others.
Since late June, about 1,250 National Grid gas workers represented by United Steelworkers Locals 12003 and 12012 have been locked out of work by National Grid amid contract negotiations with the union. And earlier this month, the DPU imposed a moratorium on all non-emergency and non-compliance work across National Grid's service territory after a gas system pressurization event in Woburn.
"I urge you not to delay with the investigating into these potential deadly leaks. These grade 1 leaks are particularly outrageous given the statewide moratorium on gas work, which should give National Grid plenty of opportunity to focus its replacement workers on grade one leaks," Kirylo wrote to the DPU.
He added, "What we are finding may be shocking to the general public, but I assure you this is just the tip of the iceberg."
A spokesperson for National Grid said the utility company had not seen the list of alleged leaks from the unions and was not in a position to comment on the union's allegations.
"Someone has to take a step here and show who is responsible for safety in this state," USW Local 12012 President John Buonopane told the News Service this week.
In late September, the DPU found 29 instances in which National Grid may have violated federal gas pipeline safety regulations since early July and gave the utility 30 days to respond to the allegations or "we will move forward with a compliance action or additional investigation against National Grid."
While the roughly 1,250 gas workers locked out of their jobs by National Grid cannot do the work to address the 30 alleged dangerous leaks the unions found, they can now put their skills to use in the effort to restore gas service to Lawrence, Andover and North Andover after the gas explosions and fires there on Sept. 13.
In an Oct. 5 letter, DPU Chairwoman Angela O'Connor wrote to the union presidents to ask that they reach out to their members to let them know they could be helpful in the Merrimack Valley recovery efforts.
"The team leading the recovery operation is in need of qualified workers and because many of the union's members likely meet these qualifications, we ask for your assistance in making members aware that their services could be utilized," O'Connor wrote.
Then on Tuesday, O'Connor wrote to National Grid Massachusetts President Marcy Reed asking that the utility company release the union members' operator qualifications.
"As you know, the Commonwealth is committed to facilitating a safe and expeditious recovery effort. That commitment requires qualified and dedicated professionals," she wrote. "Therefore, I hope and expect that National Grid will promptly release operator qualifications and take all other steps to assist the recovery effort."
Christine Milligan, a National Grid spokeswoman, said the utility received the formal request to release gas workers' qualifications at 4:30 p.m. Monday and provided the qualifications at 8:49 a.m. Tuesday.
"National Grid has said from the beginning that we would support the unions in their publicly expressed wish to assist in restoration efforts in the Merrimack Valley," she said in a statement. "We wholeheartedly support contractors or Columbia Gas hiring the appropriately trained and certified members of the United Steelworkers Locals 12003 and 12012-04 to help with necessary components of the Merrimack Valley's restoration. We have provided the information that has been requested."
Milligan also said National Grid "remains prepared to provide technical assistance to Columbia Gas through our existing workforce as needed, just as we did immediately following the incident."