The Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants last week launched the Financial Literacy for Newcomers Program

Massachusetts lawmakers approved legislation Monday that would extend state unemployment benefits to about 1,200 natural gas workers who have been locked out in a bitter contract dispute with National Grid since July.

The measure sent to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk during an informal Christmas Eve session of the state legislature is aimed at ensuring workers continue to receive benefits when their initial, six-month unemployment compensation period concludes next month.

Baker and other state leaders have repeatedly called on National Grid to end the lockout and legislators took the unusual step of intervening legislatively as the impasse dragged on. Baker has not yet indicated whether he intends to sign the bill.

In a hint of potential progress toward a settlement, the utility and two unions representing the locked out employees issued a joint statement late Friday saying both sides had “agreed to a firm schedule to meet and bargain with the shared intent to reach an agreement by Dec. 28, 2018.”

If a deal was reached on that timetable, it would negate the immediate need for the legislation, which does not specifically mention National Grid but would prohibit any utility that locks out its workers from passing on the costs of additional unemployment insurance assessments to ratepayers.

“I reiterate my call that National Grid end the lockout, and that both parties be at the table negotiating in good faith, around the clock while putting the employees back to work,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo in a statement last week. “The focus needs to be on the damage this lockout has caused the commonwealth: The public safety concerns, the cost, and especially the harm that is being done to these families is unacceptable.”

The state Department of Public Utilities ordered a halt on non-emergency natural gas work performed by National Grid in October after an over-pressurization mishap during routine maintenance interrupted service to hundreds of homes in the city of Woburn. No injuries were reported. Last week, DPU officials largely lifted the moratorium.

In response to recommendations from federal investigators after the September disaster in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, Baker filed separate legislation this month that would require any natural gas project which carried potential risks to public safety be reviewed in advance by a certified professional engineer.

Legislature OKs Bill to Make National Grid Pay for Locked-Out Workers’ Benefits

by The Associated Press time to read: 2 min