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With differing bills for locked-out workers, House calls for Baker’s suggestions

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo spoke at a bill signing ceremony at the Statehouse, in Boston.
Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo spoke at a bill signing ceremony at the Statehouse, in Boston.(Elise Amendola/Associated Press/File 2016)

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo called Thursday for Governor Charlie Baker to submit his own legislative language on how to respond to National Grid’s prolonged lockout of 1,250 workers, a suggestion that indicates the Legislature is still seeking a compromise bill.

But Baker, who’s supported legislative efforts to ensure locked-out employees are “able to pay their bills,” gave no indication he would comply with the request, and argued that his administration has already provided the Legislature with helpful guidance.

DeLeo’s comments came as the Senate passed on Thursday its version of legislation, which was designed to extend, potentially by months, unemployment benefits for the locked-out employees. The bill has clear differences in how the benefits would be funded from one the House passed earlier this month.

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After adjourning Thursday with no action on the legislation, the House has plans to hold on Friday another informal session, where it can move bills but a single “no” vote can kill legislation. DeLeo said he was willing to call additional sessions to get a proposal completed, but a spokeswoman did not say whether the lock-out legislation would emerge.

“I believe that we must now work together in a bipartisan fashion to see this legislation becomes law,” DeLeo said in a statement, adding that he’s heard “implementation concerns” about both versions of the bill.

“I am asking Governor Baker to submit specific feedback and suggested language to the House and Senate, and I am committed to reaching resolution on this issue.” He added that “the Commonwealth cannot sit idly by while a large, international conglomerate volitionally locks out employees in a transparent effort to enhance its leverage in a negotiation.”

After emerging from an unrelated State House event Thursday, Baker laughed when a reporter told him DeLeo had called on him to propose language.

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“Did he really call on me to do that?” he asked.

Baker, who said he had yet to read the Senate’s bill, added that his administration has “provided a lot of information to both branches.” An administration spokesman said that Baker’s Office of Labor and Workforce Development is also evaluating options for administering extended benefits.

“As I’ve said before, this is something I would like to see us come to terms on, especially given the current situation with respect to both the lockout and the negotiations,” Baker said. “But you gotta give me 24 hours to read the thing.”

The Senate bill would extend unemployment insurance benefits to locked-out employees for up to 26 additional weeks, or until the lockout ended, through the existing unemployment system.

Gas workers on hand for the chamber’s informal session delivered a lengthy standing ovation after the bill passed.

“It does not solve the problems of the ongoing lockout,” Senate minority leader Bruce E. Tarr said from the Senate floor, according to a State House News Service transcript. He added that the only proper solution “is good-faith, honest, intense, and sustained negotiations.”

The Senate bill, however, takes a far different approach than the House, which passed legislation to create a separate fund for “involuntarily” locked-out workers to tap once they exhaust their regular unemployment benefits, with the costs — including implementing the program as well as the benefits — falling on the employer.

As written, those costs could also fall on other utilities, not just the one locking out employees, and DeLeo has since admitted the language was a “drafting error.”

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National Grid and representatives from United Steel Workers Locals 12012 and 12003 were slated to continue negotiations Thursday night, according to the company.


Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @mattpstout