Con Ed lockout enters week two as heat wave passes

A locked-out Con Ed worker yelled, “Scab!” as she pointed out one of the replacement workers entering the Con Ed building on Irving Place. Photo by Liza Béar

By Liza Béar  |  In a clear instance of “1 percent” hauteur, Con Ed C.E.O. Kevin Burke locked out 8,500 members of Local 1-2, Utility Workers Union of America, when contract negotiations broke down 10 days ago over pensions, sick leave, raises and a seven-day advance notice for strikes.

The lockout began as a heat wave threatened to put a strain on the grid and shortly before the Fourth of July holiday. Among the key sticking points: Con Ed wants to change the kind of pension benefits that union workers get from a fixed benefit based on a portion of their salaries to a 401K-type of benefit. The utility also wants to cap raises for workers in the top 20 salary brackets and to fire workers whose sick leave exceeds six months.

With the union’s four-year contract due for renewal on July 1, the lockout is now in its second week.

In a new development on Monday, John Melia, spokesman for Local 1-2 U.W.U.A., said Con Ed is trucking in replacement workers.

“Now we have out-of-state scabs arriving, and that’s extremely provocative, to say the least,” Melia told this reporter. “The workers are from Virginia and Alabama and they’re showing up with their own rigs from out of state. That’s strikebreaking in the extreme. It’s provoking types of reactions one hasn’t seen since the 1930s, practically. I mean, they’re on a dangerous course.”

Asked what expectations the union had for the contract negotiations, which were due to resume on Tuesday, Melia said the union hadn’t heard from the company yet.

“Let’s hope they show up tomorrow and want to talk,” he said.

This is the first labor lockout at Con Ed since 1983.

Contrary to claims later made in a July 5 New York Daily News full-page ad by Con Ed, the company gave no advance notice to the workers about the July 1 lockout, and two days later the company canceled these workers’ health benefits.

Five thousand supervisors from the company’s management ranks have been brought in to replace the locked-out workers. The locked-out union members include many front-line workers who deal with outages and power emergencies in dangerous situations that desk managers are not equipped to deal with. Since the lockout, there have been reports of two Con Ed workers suffering third-degree burns.

“There may be other injuries,” Melia said, “but the company’s not forthcoming with us, they’ve thrown us out of work.”

Con Ed operates as a virtual monopoly, with state-regulated earnings. In the company’s view, that is justification enough for reducing pension benefits. But critics charge the utility has no fiscal reason to do so.

While Con Ed claims its executive pay is in line with that of other utilities, C.E.O. Burke received total compensation of almost $11 million in 2011, nearly three times the median utility industry C.E.O. compensation of about $4 million.

Burke’s 2012 Forbes ranking for C.E.O. pay is higher than those of his peers at Bank of America, Caterpillar, General Electric, General Mills, Intel and UPS. Burke is paid $4,800 an hour. Nevertheless, he has asked shareholders to approve another pay raise at the same time that he seeks to cut benefits for union workers.

The picket line continues outside Con Ed headquarters at Irving Place and 14th St., just east of Union Square.

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9 Responses to Con Ed lockout enters week two as heat wave passes

  1. valli downing

    Apprantly Coned has plenty money if they can pay contractors and pay management OT. If the board received a 20% increase and Burke received millions of dollars increase then why should the workers have to give back everything. Everyone else is gaining! Burke should be investigated for corporate theft! He's a tyrant that could care less for NY! Why are none of our so called politicians stepping up to end this. Coned is the only utility company that makes their workers work around live electricity. This is pathetic display of corporate greed and Burke should be investigated! They are getting a pension why shouldn't the workers! Bring the workers back to work and fire Burke and ivy!

  2. What most of these articles fail to mention is that these "poor" utility workers average over $100K a year in earnings, add to that the benefits that they pay well below what other individuals pay to have medical coverage, tuition reimbursement, 401K, EAP programs along with a multitude of other company provided benefits and I would say they don't have it too bad. The utility workers say they realize that benefit costs are up and that they will have to pay their "fair share" but only if the company provides them with raises to cancel out the benefit cost increases, how does that make sense? They were offered 10% in raises over the next four years, which also doesn't include their twice yearly progressions at .52 which gives them an additional $1.04 per hour more, how many of us can say that we are guaranteed those kinds of increases?

    • Haha, absolutely wrong! My dad has been working there 26 years and his base pay still isn't 100k. Only utility workers with lots of seniority make that kind of money and only because they work 70-80 hours a week EVERY week, outside, doing manual labor, and dealing with life-risking situations.

      And you have the issue backwards. Coned wanted to increase medical to the degree that it would cancel out their raise. Do you want to go four years without a raise?

      And as a former beneficiary of the benefits, let's just say the coverage isn't so hot anymore. The quality has gone down, down, down…

      ConEd is NOT by any means a bad place to work, but for the last few years, it's become very strange and management has been terrorizing employees. People knew this upcoming negotiation was going to be ugly just because management has been treating employees like dirt. But of course, you know EVERYTHING just because you read a few articles.

      I truly don't understand how anyone can side with ConEd. It's a giant monopoly making record profits that wants to cut employee benefits while asking for 20% raises for executives from its stockholders. Union members are middle class people just like you, trying to make a living and do good for their families. How can you possibly be against that? Trust me, ConEd is never going to struggle. EVER. It's one of the few businesses that can say that.

    • Anthony gas ops

      For any union member in con Ed to make a 100 thousand they have to work extremely long hours. Thats time away from their families and every hour on the job increases the chance of injury. You dont make that kind of money with a 40 hour week. As far as paying our fair share we've paid it ten fold in blood, sweat and tears. Have a little courtesy for the people who work to keep all the luxurys in your life operating.

  3. Union workers created, fought and died for the concept of a 40 hour work week- among other humanizing laws that benefited ALL working people. Now that is being eroded by the endless greed of profiteers who insist on squeezing every last dime from every possible source: the environment, working people's salaries, schools systems, pensions, etc. Without thought or regard for how this is heading everyone and the planet into a ditch.
    While apologists for management try to provoke upset at these workers because they earn a decent living with health benefits the 1% walk away with profits/salaries that are completely out of proportion to the worth of the work they perform.
    Let families make a living and stop endangering the entire city of NY with your union busting efforts.

  4. Wanna bet Patricia thinks people making over 250 k deserve tax breaks too.

  5. #Patricia you ask "how many of us can say that we are guaranteed those kinds of increases?"
    to which i reply: join a union, demand your fair share.

  6. Why doesnt patricia get out from behind her desk and try working the hours it takes as a utility worker to make 100k? Some people are just ignorant!!!!!

  7. Hi there, for all time i used to check webpage posts here early in the dawn, for the reason that
    i like to find out more and more.

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