Posted 10 months ago on July 2, 2012, 4:59 a.m. EST by commonsensefolks
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Con Ed locks out 8,000 employees, managers take over system as talks with union break down
Talks broke down about 1 a.m., officials said. Discussions centered around wages, pension and other benefits.
In the middle of the worst heat wave of the summer, with millions suffering from huge power cuts a few states away, Consolidated Edison locked out 8,000 workers after union contract talks broke down early Sunday.
The utility halted meter reading and shuttered walk-in centers and said 5,000 managers would stand in for the union members.
“They have placed their customers and the public at great peril,” said union spokesman John Melia. “These men and women don’t have the knowledge or the expertise or the capability to keep the system operating long term,” he said. “These guys don’t know how to go down into flaming manholes.”
The power giant blamed the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2 for refusing an offer to extend its contract for two weeks so the talks could continue past the June 30 deadline.
“The company’s offer to extend the contract remains on the table,” said Con Ed spokeswoman Sara Banda.
Melia insisted it was the company that cut off talks, kicking union negotiators out around 1:30 a.m.
The contract dispute centers around worker pensions.
There was no sign of a break in the standoff, even as the weather forecast called for a week of high temperatures, which stress the grid, and summer storms, which can bring trees down on power lines.
South of the city, millions in the Washington, D.C., area sweltered for another day without lights or air conditioning after thunderstorms knocked out power to a vast swath of the mid-Atlantic on Friday.
Con Ed, which serves 3.2 million customers in the five boroughs and Westchester, said its managers would be able to respond to any emergencies.
“All company personnel have been preparing for the possibility of a union work stoppage for months,” the utility said in a statement.
But the union said keeping the antiquated system operating — especially during a heat wave — was no cakewalk.
“They’re calling back management retirees, people over 65, paying them 35 bucks an hour,” Melia said. “They can’t deal with a transformer fire on top of a pole.
“This is dangerous work. It kills people. We lose one or two men a year,” he said.
Banda said the number of scattered small-scale power outages Sunday was actually below average for a typical day.
In the Bronx, Con Ed managers made quick work of an outage that darkened a block of Wilson Ave. between Mace and Waring Aves. for about four hours after someone letting off firecrackers hit a power line.
“They were sweethearts, they did their job,” said Sue Ferraro, 34, a cosmetology teacher. “They were wonderful. They worked so fast in this heat.”
In Queens, about 650 households in Hollis lost power for most of the day.
“I was getting ready for church and noticed the cooling system went off,” said Vincent Springer, 54.
He opened the windows, hoping a breeze would cool his wife and two young boys, 7 and 20 months old.
“Look at him. He’s licking his own sweat,” he said of little Daniel. “This is very hard. We can’t do anything. All we can do is sweat around the house.”
Residents said they thought the AC and lights would have been back on faster without the labor dispute.
As Sunday evening loomed, both sides reported that no progress had been made.
“It’s a vulnerable moment for the city, and I hope there’s swift resolution,” said City Councilman Dan Garodnick, chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee.