Friday, July 6, 2012

Con Ed Lockout: Tempers Flare as Sides Meet Today

Consolidated Edison and the union representing its 8,500 locked-out workers will return to the bargaining table this afternoon as tensions flare over a full-page ad the utility giant ran in local newspapers on Wednesday and Thursday. Officials from Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America ask the National Labor Relations Board to rule the lockout illegal.

On Thursday, the union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Con Ed's lockout of the workers—which began Sunday when a dispute over pensions, health care and wages caused contract negotiations to break down—is illegal.

A spokesman for the union said the charges were presented to management Thursday morning and filed with the labor board Thursday afternoon.

A Con Ed spokesman said the union could have avoided the lockout."We will take up the matter with the NLRB, but we did what we had to do to continue safely operating the electric, gas and steam systems for 9 million New Yorkers," he said.

"The employees' contract had expired, and the union leadership refused to accept our offer of a two-week contract extension."

The company's newspaper ad was headlined: "Why Con Edison Union Employees Are Not At Work." It blamed union officials for rejecting repeated management offers to keep its employees working in exchange for advance notice of any strike.
"Advance notice is important so that we can plan for the safe and reliable operation of our complex energy system," the ad, which appeared Thursday in the New York Daily News and New York Post, read. "Imagine if a crew working on an outage at your home or business suddenly picked up their tools and left."
A spokesman for Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America accused Con Ed of "lying to the public," insisting that the union never threatened to strike and that the company just wanted to take away Local 1-2's negotiating leverage.

"They're full of half truths," the spokesman said. "We didn't refuse to bargain. We also didn't threaten to strike. We stayed at the table. We just weren't going to surrender the ability to strike."

The presidents of the state AFL-CIO and the New York City Central Labor Council, who are coordinating a union campaign in support of Local 1-2, said that the ads were "misleading," in a joint statement released Thursday afternoon.
"Con Edison claims the lockout was necessitated by the refusal of the union to agree to provide notice prior to striking," said state AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento and CLC President Vincent Alvarez, in the statement. "Let's not forget, this lockout started when Con Edison sent workers home Sunday morning without providing notice to anyone, thereby entirely undermining the argument that strike/lockout notice is essential."
Talks will resume today, even as anger mounted over the ads. The president of the national Utility Workers Union of America, Mike Langford, met with Con Ed officials Thursday evening in advance of the main negotiations.

As negotiators prepared to meet at an undisclosed hotel in the city, hundreds of workers picketed outside Con Ed's headquarters near Union Square holding signs declaring that they were locked out and blasting air horns.

The public-relations war between the two sides was epitomized by one child's sign, which read, "Give my dad's job back now, Con Edison. I like to eat."

In addition to picketing, the union has highlighted the fact that two Con Ed managers have been injured since the lockout began, noting that its workers had a "spotless safety record" for two years before the lockout began. The company's 5,000 managers have been filling in since the lockout began Sunday. Besides a few isolated outages, power has stayed on.

The company said Thursday that it was reducing voltage by 5% in nearly two dozen neighborhoods across Brooklyn as crews repaired equipment. The reduction was not expected to affect customers.