As temperatures spiked and residents across the city feared power outages, Con Edison locked out more than 8,000 workers over heated contract talks – leaving 5,000 management personnel responsible for maintaining electric, gas and steam service for the company’s 3.2 million customers.
The power giant blamed the stalemate on leaders of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 1-2 — the union representing roughly 8,000 Con Edison employees — who refused to accept its offer to extend their members’ contract for two weeks.
“[The workers] are fired up. They are just fired up,” said Local 1-2 spokesperson John Melia. “They are supporting union leadership in measures that haven’t been seen in years. We have 100 percent support.”
According to Melia, talks between the utility giant and union members were unable to progress. Tensions and tempers peaked at Con Ed’s decision to switch to a 401(k) plan rather than the current, $8 billion defined pension benefits plan – a decision based on an updated business model rather than an economic rationale, according to Melia.
In a side-by-side analysis of both plans, Melia said a retiree on Con Ed’s defined pension plan gets $2,000 a month, while the same person under a 401(k) receives $800 a month.
According to Melia, it takes about 15 years of training to advance through the ranks at Con Ed.
“It’s a lifetime commitment to the people of the city of New York,” said Melia.
The company said its proposal to extend the current contract remains on the table and if union leadership agreed to extend the present agreement, Con Ed would welcome its employees back immediately. Electricity executives allegedly offered to continue negotiations if each side agreed to give a week’s notice of a strike or work stoppage, which the union rejected.
Con Ed suspended meter reading in most areas and closed several walk-in centers due to the lockout.
According to Con Ed, the lockout occurred because of the lack of a contract, the possibility that the union might call a surprise strike, and the company’s fear that it could not assure customers reliable service.
“The system is holding up and everything is working well,” said Con Ed spokesperson Alfonso Quiroz in regards to the lockout occurring during a heat wave.
According to Melia, on Thursday, July 5, federal mediation services will assist with continued talks at a meeting between both parties.