|The News Line: Feature
Wednesday, 11 July 2012
POWER CUTS AND A HEATWAVE IN NEW YORK
NEW Yorkers continued to face power cuts in boiling temperatures on Tuesday as talks resumed to end a lockout of skilled power workers.
Yet again talks between New York City electricity provider Consolidated Edison and its 8,500 locked out workers stalled last weekend.
Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) bosses failed to come to a final agreement with workers at a mediation session held on Saturday.
Negotiations had resumed last Friday morning after a 9-hour session the day before.
Both sides had said they were willing to work over the weekend if necessary to put an end to the dispute.
Representatives of the company met with the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 1-2 at a hotel in Queens, and were only able to agree to hold another session on Tuesday to seek a solution to the ongoing labour dispute.
Con Ed, which has more than three million customers in New York and Westchester County, declined to comment on the talks.
‘We’ve been open every day, UWUA spokesman John Melia said on Monday.
‘Nine million people are being held hostage by their union-busting tactics. They could have employed a few chimpanzees to do what they have done. They just sit there and nod their head,’ he added.
Con Ed locked out around 8,500 workers after negotiations over contract renewal failed on July 1.
The electricity giant wants to replace current pension plans with less costly 401(k)-type savings plans, as well as cutting benefits and wages.
A series of talks then took place last week, with Con Ed saying it would rehire the workers as long as they guaranteed they would not strike.
With such important issues at stake, however, the UWUA refused to provide such a promise.
The workers have been temporarily replaced by some 5,000 managers and retirees.
However, with a heat wave hitting the New York area, the Con Ed’s ability to deal with its regular projects and emergencies appears to have been undermined.
The company has reduced voltage by over 5 per cent in a number of neighbourhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx in order to protect the overall system and maintain service as crews fixed the power lines feeding the neighborhoods.
The UWUA says the reductions were a sign that Con Ed was facing increasing difficulty in dealing with the heat wave without its regular workers.
The UWUA’s Melia said: ‘If something goes wrong, Con Edison will not be able to respond in a timely manner, endangering all New Yorkers.’
Meanwhile, accidents and injuries are increasing among the strike breakers.
At least four have been injured, with two suffering burns to their faces and hands.
One strike breaker was arrested in Yonkers for reporting a phony gas leak.
Union workers have been pointing to the sheer lack of skills and proper education amongst the scabs.
New Yorkers remain puzzled as to why the company, which in the words of Con Ed president Kevin Burke boasted an impressive $1.1bn profit last year, decided on the cuts in employee benefits that sparked the dispute.
To add injury to insult, the move came as Con Ed increased executive pay by 82 per cent in 2010 – to over $17m for its top five executives.
Two City Council members, Letitia James of Brooklyn and Melissa Mark-Vivertio of Harlem, came out to support a crowd of about 100 people who picketed in front of Con Edison’s Manhattan headquarters, near Union Square, on Saturday.
‘This company is trying to break the backs of its workers,’ James said.
‘This is a state-regulated company. The governor needs to be involved,’ Mark-Vivertio said.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office said it ‘continues to monitor the situation closely’.
The weather forecast added to the rising pressure to get the situation resolved; as heat waves tend to put a strain on electrical systems, with the National Weather Service predicting the temperature could hit 100 degrees on Saturday.
The lock out began last Sunday July 1st, when contract negotiations broke down.
Mario Cilento, New York State AFL-CIO President, issued the following statement last Monday 2 July: ‘Con Edison’s actions early Sunday morning were nothing short of reprehensible.
‘They displayed unbridled contempt, not only for their workers, but for their loyal customers.
‘Instead of continuing to bargain in good faith with Utility Workers Local 1-2, Con Edison chose to fire their union workers, thus endangering the safety and well-being of millions of New Yorkers.
‘The Utility Workers had a choice of whether to continue bargaining in good faith, or to strike, and they chose to negotiate.
‘Con Edison had the choice to continue bargaining in good faith or to lock out their workers. They chose a lock-out.
‘It’s clear that Con Edison made this reckless choice, sacrificing the well-being of their customers and workers, for the sole purpose of attempting to intimidate and ultimately break the Utility Workers Union.
‘Well, on behalf of the 2.5 million workers of the New York State AFL-CIO, we have one very clear and simple message for Con Edison: “You picked the wrong fight.”
‘Our members are unified in this battle, a battle that started as a result of Con Edison’s deeply misguided notion that they could intimidate Local 1-2, and by extension the labour movement in New York.
‘It’s just the opposite. The Utility Workers will have the resources of the New York State AFL-CIO and its brother and sister unions at their disposal for as long as necessary.
‘Not only has Con Edison put the safety and well-being of millions of New Yorkers at risk, they are also now on the verge of costing New York’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund approximately $3.4 million a week, beginning next week.
‘Because Con Edison locked out their workforce, those workers will be eligible to file for Unemployment Insurance benefits seven days after the lockout began.
‘As a result, 8,500 workers will be eligible for up to $405 a week for at least the next 26 weeks.
‘Con Edison has single-handedly added to the economic difficulties facing our state and placed an unnecessary strain on the UI Trust Fund hurting other employers throughout the state who contribute to the fund.
‘We urge Con Edison to put its customers and workers first and to immediately begin negotiating in good faith with Local 1-2.
‘If not, they better know that the 2.5 million union members of this state are in this battle for the long haul.’
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