Power company ConEd locks out union workers as labor talks stall

By Jonathan Terbush
Sunday, July 1, 2012 12:25 EDT
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Image via Fir0002/Flagstaffotos on Wikimedia, Creative Commons licensed
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Contract negotiations between New York power utility Consolidated Edison and its unionized workers broke down late Saturday night, according to the New York Daily News, prompting the company to lock out over 8,000 employees during a summer heat wave that threatens to strain the city’s power grid.

The previous contract between ConEd and the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2 expired at midnight on Saturday, and the two sides had been working late into the night trying to reach an agreement on a new one. A ConEd spokesman told Reuters that the union balked at the company’s request for a two-week extension to reach a deal, so the company told thousands of employees not to report for work Sunday.

The talks — which centered around wage, benefit and pension disputes — reportedly broke down around 1 a.m., with a ConEd spokesman telling the Daily News, “We remain far apart.”

While the roughly 8,500 unionized ConEd members remain locked out, some 5,000 managers will be tasked with running a sprawling electrical grid that serves 3.2 million customers. In a statement posted to its website, ConEd said they would be suspending some long-term construction projects and reallocating resources to compensate for the lockout, saying also that they could not, “assure customers of reliable service,” due to the unsettled nature of the labor talks.

As the labor talks approached Saturday’s deadline, the UWUA threatened to strike should ConEd not meet their demands. In making that threat, the UWAU noted that a strike or other form of work stoppage could result in power outages across New York City.

“The public should know, especially in Brooklyn and Queens, that if [ConEd] persists in failing to engage in meaningful discussions and forces a work disruption, the system shows every indication that it will not be able to hold up in another heat wave,” President of UWUA Local 1-2, Harry Farrell, said in a statement last week.

The lockout comes amid a severe heatwave in New York City, with temperatures expected to spike into the low 90s Sunday and Monday after already having reached the mid-nineties the previous two days. With the heat comes an added burden on the power grid as customers turn to energy-sapping air conditioners and fans to keep cool.

By mid-morning Sunday, ConEd already posted a brief video to customers on its website, informing them of minor service changes, like temporary suspension of meter readings.

“Please know that we will be working around the clock to keep your service as reliable as ever,” Marilyn Caselli, senior vice president of customer operations, says in the video.


Image via Fir0002/Flagstaffotos on Wikimedia, Creative Commons licensed 

Jonathan Terbush
Jonathan Terbush
Jon Terbush is a Boston-based writer whose work has appeared in Talking Points Memo, Business Insider, the New Haven Register, and elsewhere. He tweets about politics, cats, and baseball via @jonterbush.
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