Con Edison, union talks to continue

NY governor intervenes in Con Edison talks with union
June 29, 2008 12:32:48 PM PDT
Gov. David Paterson intervened late Saturday in negotiations between Consolidated Edison and the union representing almost two-thirds of the utility's work force just minutes before the midnight deadline for a possible strike expired and persuaded both sides to agree to a "cooling off period," a spokesman for the governor said. Negotiations were suspended early Sunday and were scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Paterson spokesman Errol Cockfield said. Cockfield said the governor had been monitoring the talks while recovering at his Manhattan home from surgery Saturday morning to remove a cataract.

Paterson, concerned about the impact of possible service disruptions on customers created by a strike during the summer, reached out by telephone to Con Edison chief executive Kevin Burke and Harry Farrell, president of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2, Cockfield said.

"He expressed his concern that there should be no disruption in services and asked them to agree to a...cooling-off period," Cockfield said. "The governor suggested this time would allow tempers to subside and then both parties could return to the bargaining table in a more measured and rational manner."

Union spokesman Joe Flaherty said a new deadline was set for Tuesday at 11:59 p.m.

"We hope Con Ed will come to its senses and start bargaining in good faith in the interest of the good people of New York City and Westchester County, who would be inconvenienced" by a strike, Flaherty said.

Con Edison spokesman Michael Clendenin said the giant utility remained hopeful a deal would be reached when negotiations resume. "It's not a matter of if but when," Clendenin said.

The union had said its 9,000 members would walk off the job early Sunday if talks didn't result in a better contract offer. Most of the workers maintain the utility's gas, electric and steam delivery systems.

But Clendenin has said a strike wouldn't disrupt service. He said Con Edison managers - about half of whom rose through the utility's ranks - would respond to any emergencies if workers struck. Con Edison has nearly 14,000 employees in all.

However, non-emergency repairs and meter reading could be delayed, Clendenin said.

"We are hopeful that we'll get an agreed-upon contract," Clendenin said before the governor intervened. "But we're preparing for anything."

Negotiations were taking place at a hotel in East Rutherford, N.J. but it wasn't clear where Tuesday's talks would be held.

Flaherty said the two sides remained at odds late Saturday over issues including wages, health care costs and pensions.

"They haven't put anything reasonable on the table yet," Flaherty said Saturday.

The union's membership has authorized a strike if a deal isn't reached, but Flaherty said a walkout wasn't automatic with the passing of the midnight deadline. Once negotiations resume Tuesday, union leaders could bring the utility's last offer to members for a vote, among other possibilities.

Con Edison provides electricity in most of New York City and Westchester County and supplies natural gas service in much of the same area. The utility also operates a massive steam system that heats and cools thousands of buildings.

Negotiations between the union and the utility have gone down to the last minute several times before. The last time it led to a strike was in 1983.