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Volume 77, Number 12 | August 22 - 28, 2007

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

A businessman adjusting his suit outside Con Ed’s Irving Pl. headquarters was unaware he was mirroring the gesture of the union rat behind him.

Union continues its rat attack against Con Edison

By Mary Reinholz

For some four months now, two giant rubber rats — organized labor’s symbol of union wrath — have stood outside Con Edison’s headquarters on 4 Irving Pl. and its East River generating station that covers two city blocks on Avenue C. The rubber rodents are props in an industry-wide organizing drive by Laborers Local 78, which represents some 3,000 asbestos and hazardous waste workers based Downtown on Cliff St.

The inflatable vermin briefly disappeared in deference to last month’s deadly steam pipe explosion in Midtown, but returned two workdays later as Local 78 members passed out leaflets and continued to protest the utility’s use of a Brooklyn Con Ed contractor, Allstate Power Vac, Inc., that the union members claim illegally fired five temporary hazardous waste workers in June after they tried to organize workers at a Varick Ave. site.

“We had a meeting with Con Ed last week, but they they want to stay neutral and we couldn’t find a solution,” said Bryan Silva, an organizer for Local 78 who works for the Laborers International Union of North America in Monroe Township. He claimed that Allstate has since rehired two of the workers but that the local will continue to press both the company and Con Ed for “remaining” demands. Silva claims Con Ed earlier had agreed to hire union contractors.

Chris Olert, a Con Ed spokesperson, said the utility would not comment on the matter and referred all inquires to Allstate, a full-service industrial and environmental firm. Glen Burke, a manager at Allstate on Varick Ave., was unavailable for comment at press time but previously denied that his company had fired any workers.

“We had a work slowdown and they were laid off,” he said. He also disputed claims by Local 78 that his company used inexperienced workers to clean up an oil spill in Long Island City this spring.

“That did not happen,” he said. “We’re an environmental company that cleans up environmental waste. We hardly do any hazardous work, so what they’re writing is wrong.”

“Of course they do hazardous work,” said Silva, noting that hazardous waste workers toiling in manholes and other confined spaces “never know what kind of contaminants are down there.” He said the local, which includes members who are now at the Con Ed blast site and others “who got sick and later died” working at Ground Zero, decided to target Con Ed headquarters for protests — but isn’t calling for work stoppages or halting deliveries.

“We want them to know what kind of company they are,” he said of Allstate. “They have treated workers with no respect,” he added, claiming its nonunion “temps” make $9.50 an hour and others are paid $10.50 an hour for hauling wastes in trucks. 

Silva acknowledged there had been some squabbling with Local 731, which represents excavation workers, over the “fine lines” of jurisdiction in organizing campaigns, but insisted there was no problem now “and we’re working with Local 731. They’re our brothers.”
Meanwhile, reports of the union rat’s demise as a protest prop appear to have been exaggerated. Plus, there are other large and fearsome critters also available for protests.

“We have a skunk,” said one member of Local 78 outside Con Ed headquarters who declined to give his name. “And we have gorilla at a site in Jersey.”

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