GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 4, 2013

National Grid draws new fire over workers' pay

From Wire and Staff Reports
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — BOSTON — Utility giant National Grid, fined by the state Attorney General’s office last January over similar charges that encompassed a problem involving a Gloucester line worker, is once again coming under fire for repeatedly failing to pay its workers what they are owed in timely fashion.

“National Grid, make no mistake about it, is a company in crisis,” said Brotherhood of Utility Workers Council President Dan Hurley, who said a new payroll system resulted in workers going unpaid after working during Tropical Storm Sandy last year, and it has failed to reflect the pay increases contained in a new contract signed May 11.

That claim was adamantly denied by Grid officials, whose territory includes Gloucester and Cape Ann.

“We’re not a company in crisis,” said National Grid spokeswoman Jackie Barry. She said the company’s switch to the new system in October was complicated by Sandy’s landing across the East Coast shortly afterwards.

“We had thousands of employees working in locations that were not their usual work locations,” she said.

Hurley, who said the payroll problem affects both union and non-union workers for the power company, filed a new, June 26 wage complaint with the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley, who fined the company $270,000 in January for failing to pay workers on time for their work during Sandy. Barry said National Grid had not challenged that fine, and made the payment.

One of those workers left unpaid for an extended time last fall was lineman Mike Valaskatgis of Gloucester, who was part of National Grid’s aid response to Mineola, N.Y., and other areas after Sandy hit in late October and was still owed mloney by the utility into the new year.

Valaskatgis and his crew were on the Sandy cleanup and recovery scene for 10 days, working daily 18-hour shifts with 6 hours of sleep time in between. In an emailed response to the fines from the Attorney General’s office at that time, 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.”

In mid-May, 1,200 National Grid workers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island were prepared to strike during negotiations for a new contract, an action that was averted as both sides agreed to a new contract. Hurley said despite the agreement, workers have not seen the contractually obligated pay increases reflected in their paychecks.

“We had many people who worked in excess of 100 hours in New York during Hurricane Sandy, and they got zero pay,” Hurley said. He said, “Bang — (that) happens again, people aren’t getting paid. They can’t even pay them for what they agreed to pay them.”

“We are still working on resolving some of the issues related to the new SAP office system that we installed in October. It’s a very complicated undertaking. It involves merging and consolidating many company functions, including finance, HR, payroll, supply chain and others,” Barry said. She said, “We have made very significant progress in resolving many of the issues that we had associated with the transition to the new system.”

Barry said the system used to bill customers for power consumption is completely separate from the SAP payroll system, which she said is widely used.

A June 26 email from National Grid to its employees again acknowledged that “many represented employees” were underpaid in checks issued the week of June 10.

“Resolving the payroll issues remains a top priority for U.S. leadership and The Payroll Improvement Team,” the unsigned National Grid email indicated. “The team is working hard to complete the off-cycle payrolls, deliver the wage statements and begin the statement service as soon as possible. However, they also must invest the necessary time and effort to ensure they process correctly and that they are accurate.”

The company, which serves areas outside Boston and some western parts of the state, has about 1.2 million customers in Massachusetts.

“The members have lost faith in this company,” Hurley said. “To have a company who is involved in serious commerce within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to behave like this, or not behave …. is just disgusting.”

“We have made accommodations for employees who have had hardship situations as a result of the transition,” Barry said. She said the company is hoping to have provided employees with wage statements and allowed them to review those wage statements by the fall.