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Con Ed workers rally for new deal

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 7/19/2012, 2:45 p.m.
Con Edison fight with local Utility Workers of America continues

On Tuesday afternoon, members of Local 1-2 Utility Workers of America and other union representatives held a rally in support of the locked out Con Edison employees. As another heat wave takes over the five boroughs, workers were hoping to turn the temperature up on Con Ed management to come back to the negotiation table.

A news conference was held in the northwest corner of Union Square Park, where union representatives and local officials showed solidarity with labor and called upon management to sit down and negotiate.

"This is not a time for gamesmanship. This is not a time to prove a point," said Local 1-2 President Harry Farrell. "The temperatures are soaring right now, and a lot of people could either get injured or killed. It's time to bring the workers to the table and give them what they deserve, which is a fair contract."

Farrell also mentioned that it's no surprise that brownouts--the lowering of voltage in neighborhoods to avoid potential blackouts--are only happening in mostly ethnic-minority neighborhoods.

"Folks on the Upper East Side are doing just fine," Farrell said. Other local officials weighed in as well.

"When we hear that the CEO of Con Ed is increasing his salary, increasing his compensation package, then trying to balance the budget of this utility, which actually had a $5 billion profit last year...by reducing the compensation package of its workers, that is unacceptable," said City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.

City Comptroller John Liu said that his office is looking into the economic impact of the lockout in terms of how much unemployment and public assistance is used. "If something happened where there was a big power disruption, it would clearly be a large fiscal impact on the city," he said. "We're quantifying that."

On June 30, after their current contract expired, Con Ed workers were locked out. Con Ed has 5,000 managers, along with workers the company has brought in from places like Alabama and Texas and is housing in hotels, working in place of the union workers. While Con Ed did reinstate health insurance for Local 1-2 workers, it still hasn't come back to the table to negotiate the contract.

Con Ed serves 3.2 million customers in New York City and Westchester County, providing them with electricity.

The company went into defense mode recently to explain why their lockout of 8,500 employees was the right decision.

"If the union leadership directed our union employees to leave their jobs without warning, we would have understaffed energy control centers and substations," Con Ed representatives said in a filing to New York State's Public Service Commission. "Our ability to respond to and fix gas leaks, power outages or downed lines would be severely compromised." The company claims the union's unwillingness to provide 72 hours notice before a strike left them no choice.

But don't tell that to Local 1-2.

"Should [Con Ed] get away with putting people on a rollercoaster like this?" asked Farrell. "We will continue to picket. Con Edison's underground system is unique. The people who work on it are the only ones who really know how to run it and maintain that system."

When asked if he felt people like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg should be speaking out about the situation, Liu said, "I think every leader should be on top of this right now."

Talks were scheduled to resume on Wednesday by AmNews press time.