GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 8, 2013

AG fines National Grid over Sandy pay delays

From Wire
and Staff Reports

---- — BOSTON — Utility giant National Grid has been hit with a $270,000 fine for delays in paying hundreds of Massachusetts workers, including at least one from Gloucester, for their work in responding to the Superstorm Sandy cleanup in New York New Jersey and elsewhere.

Attorney General Martha Coakley says the state’s largest utility violated wage and hour laws.

National Grid reported technical problems with a new payroll system that resulted in as many as 2,000 workers not being paid for work they did in restoring power to residents in Massachusetts and neighboring states following the October storm.

Coakley sent a letter to the utility on Dec. 14 warning of penalties if the problems were not rectified.

She says some workers have suffered financial hardship as a result of not being paid for weeks.

Dan Hurley, president of Braintree, Mass.-based Local 369 of the Utility Workers Union of America, told the Gloucester Daily Times Monday that he applauds the attorney general for “holding the company accountable.”

“Unfortunately,” he added, “this remains unresolved,” adding that some workers who responded the Sandy cleanup have still not been paid for work dating back to October and November.

“We’ve had some paid at 40 hours, some less than 40 hours a week, some have been paid so that their yearly amounts on their W-2 (tax) forms will be wrong,” Hurley explained. “It’s just a systematic failure of this company and its management.”

Hurley said he has no idea, at this point, how much employees are still owed.

“That’s a hard number to get at,” he said, “They (National Grid) take two steps forward and one step back.”

Lineman Mike Valaskatgis of Gloucester, a lineman who was part of National Grid’s aid response to Mineola, N.Y., and other areas after Sandy hit in late October, told the Times Monday that he’s still owed some money by the utility company, “but we’re gaining on it.”

“I have my figures and they have their figures” regarding his owed pay, said Valaskatgis, whose crew was on the scene for 10 days, working daily 18-hour shifts with 6 hours of sleep time in between.

“They’ve been doing their due diligence,” he said of National Grid payroll personnel. “We’re pretty close and catching up as of the last paycheck. I know people are owed more than I am, so as far as I’m concerned, we’re making progress, but geez...”

In an emailed response to the fines, National Grid said that “we know this situation has been difficult for many of our employees and we have apologized to them.

“We have been aggressively addressing this issue and have made significant progress; we continue to focus on making things right for all of our employees so they feel the respect and appreciation they deserve for jobs well done — especially those who worked tirelessly to restore power to customers affected by Superstorm Sandy.”

But Hurley, whose union represents 700 National Grid employees on both the gas and electric sides, noted that the National Grid payroll foulup is now into its 11th week.

“This company has to be held responsible to pay its employees — not just union employees, but all of their employees,” he said. “This is an absolutely tragedy,” he added, noting that the timing of the response and pay issue means that 2013 paychecks are now carrying pay for 2012 work, with a variety of tax and other implications.

Attorney General Coakley’s office said that, beyond the initial $270,000, National Grid faces additional fines for each week that passes without workers being paid.

“The continued delays in paying workers their hard earned wages is unacceptable and National Grid should do whatever it can to resolve this matter immediately,” Coakley said in a prepared statement Monday.