A lockout and moratorium has business owners across Massachusetts waiting for gas service and unable to open their doors. They said they understand the need to address the labor dispute and safety issues, but are concerned about the economic toll the delays are having on development.
The backlog in service from National Grid is two-fold. First, a contract dispute has locked out more than 1,200 union workers since the beginning of the summer. Then the state Department of Public Utilities placed a moratorium on all non-emergency and non-compliance work in October. The reason for the stop is to address safety concerns after over pressurization incidents in the Merrimack Valley and Woburn.
Erin Madore was supposed to have gas service at her new business, Savin Hill Fitness, back in June. She is still waiting and said she has heard nothing.
“I’m not asking for limo service,” Madore said. “I’m asking for a public utility that heats and provides hot water. That is not too much to ask for.”
Left with no other option, Madore launched an online petition pleading for gas. She received more than 400 signatures in a day and she is not alone in her wait.
Kathryn Ernst, the owner of Twist Café and Bakery in Millis, is waiting too. She is trying to open a second location in Burlington and needs an upgraded gas meter in order to do so.
“It’s an expensive waiting game,” Ernst said. “We can’t bring in any of our equipment. We can’t do our grand opening or hire a staff or do anything because we really don’t know when we’re going to open the doors.”
Fortunately, both Ernst and Madore said they have understanding landlords who are not charging them rent, but they know of others who are not as lucky.
“Anyone who needs gas, there’s no growth, no ability to move forward, because we’re just stuck,” Ernst said.
A spokesperson for National Grid said the company has tried to be up front with its customers, but they do not know when they will be able to reach an agreement with their workers or when the moratorium will be lifted.
“We have submitted everything that has been required of us to date and are awaiting feedback,” spokesperson Christine Milligan said in part in a statement.
Joe Kirylo, president of United Steelworkers Local 12003, argued the company was performing little gas service in the first three months of the lockout – before the moratorium was implemented.
“National Grid has utterly failed to live up to its obligations as a public utility and has shown complete disregard for the people of the businesses in our Commonwealth,” Kirylo said in a written statement.
Governor Charlie Baker recently introduced a bill on Beacon Hill that could provide some relief. It calls for new safety restrictions, but would allow gas work to resume during the lockout. However, a lot of cities and towns have winter moratoriums due to excavation work being harder, so the backlog is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Madore, who has already hired a staff and signed up members for an anticipated opening in January, said she is hopeful her business will be serviced sooner rather than later.
“If we can’t open until spring, there might not be a company to open,” she said. “The gas situation is essentially stopping me from living my dream.”