This article first appeared in Newsday.
A union representing more than 1,100 National Grid gas and power-plant workers on Long Island voted on Saturday to authorize a strike as soon as next Sunday as the two parties remain "far apart" in contract negotiations, a union leader said.
Local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers held a socially distanced strike authorization vote Saturday at its Holtsville office, where around 85% of the more than 500 members who voted favored the strike authorization, said Patrick Guidice, the local’s business agent.
He declined to say which contract issues specifically kept the two sides from reaching a new contract, but said the two sides remained "far apart" in finding a resolution.
National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd, in a statement, said the company has "made progress" with the "good-faith negotiations" with the union, including reaching "tentative agreements on several matters that benefit our employees."
She said National Grid negotiators "continue to discuss other topics" on reaching an agreement that "meets the needs of both our employees and our customers."
She declined to say what contingencies the company has in place if gas and power-plant maintenance workers walk off the job next Sunday. National Grid has workers in surrounding areas throughout the Northeast and New York City, but it's unclear if any would cross picket lines should Long Island workers strike.
In the past, the union and the company have disagreed in contract negotiations over how much members pay for health care costs as well as pension issues.
The union and National Grid had contentious contract talks in 2015 over health-cost and benefit issues, and the union conducted street rallies outside National Grid's Hicksville office.
"We moved in 2015," Guidice said of concessions made that year. "How much more are we going to move?"
The two parties reached a separate contract agreement in 2019.
Local 1049 represents more than 1,150 National Grid workers who install, maintain and support London-based National Grid’s natural-gas infrastructure and power plant operations on Long Island, for some 600,000 customers.
Hundreds of workers represented by the union operate and maintain National Grid’s Long Island power plants in locations that include Northport, Island Park and Port Jefferson, as well as locations that host smaller plants across Long Island.
The union’s contract with National Grid expires at midnight Saturday, Feb. 13, and the vote gives union leaders the authorization to call a strike after that point, leading workers to walk off the job as early as Sunday morning.
The two sides could also agree to extend the existing contract for a specified period, something they have yet to do. Guidice said union members will not work without a contract.
He said both sides were continuing to talk, but added that progress had stalled in recent days, with sticking points that forced the authorization vote.
The union held the vote using COVID-19 protocols, including holding a meeting in advance of the vote by broadcasting to union members through their car radios. The paper ballots required union members to bring their own pens to the socially distant polls that required masks, Guidice said.
Local 1049 also represents some 2,400 unionized PSEG Long Island workers. As grid-owner LIPA considers severing its ties to PSEG over management failures and other problems tied to PSEG’s missteps during Tropical Storm Isaias, Guidice and the union have weighed in, favoring "significant improvements" to the PSEG contract rather than LIPA becoming a fully public municipal electric utility.
"We want the two sides to come together," he said.
The union's unrelated contract negotiations with PSEG have been considerably less conflicted than those with National Grid. PSEG and the union reached a contract in 2019 that was "ultimately a very fair agreement," Guidice said. "Our relationship is better with PSEG."
Union workers pay part of their medical costs for both companies, but the costs are higher for National Grid workers.