The story of ConEd’s current lockout of 8,500 workers goes a little something like this: union workers wanted to work without a contract to ensure service amidst a punishing heatwave but the company insisted on signage of their most recent offer. When the workers refused, the NYC power utility locked out the employees who are represented by the Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA).
The contract expired Sunday at 12:01AM and neither side was close to an agreement. ConEd is demanding large cuts to pensions and benefits. The power utility will now attempt to keep up service during the heat wave with 5,000 managers manning the ship, a move the union considers dangerous. Local 1-2 President Harry Farrell decried the negotiations as dangerous to the well being of the city:
“This was an irresponsible move on Con Ed’s part,” said Harry Farrell, the president of the union, Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America. “What they said last night to the people of New York was, ‘Drop dead.’ ”
Asked if he believed the management stand-ins could handle a crisis, he said, “They’re asking retired supervisors to climb poles and work in manholes and stuff — I just don’t see it happening.”
The timing couldn’t be worse for the 3.2 million affected ConEd customers. The New York region is expecting the same type of weather that has plagued much of the rest of the country in recent days:
The extreme weather also included vicious storms from Indiana to New Jersey and south to Virginia that killed at least 13 people and left 3 million without power. Most of the damage came in the mid-Atlantic region, and only scattered outages across ConEd’s service area in New York were reported as of Sunday morning. ConEd said it is keeping a close watch on its system and has trained managers working on essential operations.
ConEd has temporarily closed its walk-in centers, suspended meter reading, and stopped work on major projects in order to have the manpower available in case of crisis. Temperatures are expected to reach 100 degrees on Saturday. The union, unwilling to sign a pledge to give a week’s notice if they intend to strike, wants the government to step in so they can return to their jobs without a contract, a move they view as plenty forgiving considering the circumstances:
“We did everything to avert this action,” he said. “We recognize that New York City is sweltering right now. … We recognize we have a responsibility to the people of New York City and Westchester County,” the suburban county north of the city.
He (John Melia, spokesman for Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers of America) disputed the company’s claim that its managers could do the job of the union workers.
“They know what happens in a heat wave, they know they don’t have the expertise to fix it,” he said. “They don’t have the technical knowledge.”