Con Ed talks extended

July 1, 2008 9:07:04 PM PDT
Consolidated Edison and the union representing nearly 9,000 of the utility's workers continued into early Wednesday morning as officials reported progress was being made. There is speculation that a deal could be in place by morning.

Negotiations resumed Tuesday morning in Manhattan after they were suspended over the weekend when Gov. David Paterson intervened and suggested both sides take a cooling off period. The new deadline was 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, but talks continued past the deadline.

One major point of contention was the company's proposal to switch from traditional pensions to a 401(K)-style plan for new employees, said Joe Flaherty, spokesman for the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2, which represents about two-thirds of Con Edison's 14,000 employees.

"It's a pension provision they know we can't and won't agree to," Flaherty said. "It's an item we can't live with and they know it.

"There's been a distinct lack of progress," said Flaherty, who described Con Edison's position as "intransigent and recalcitrant." "It looks very very bad."

Other issues include wages and the utility's hiring of outside contractors, Flaherty said.

Con Edison Michael Clendenin declined to discuss the specifics of the utility's proposals.

"Both sides continue to talk," Clendenin said. "We'll stay as long as it takes to reach a common agreement. Everything's negotiable. Our goal is to provide a fair contract for our employees and one that holds down costs for our customers."

The union had threatened to walk off the job early Sunday if an agreement wasn't reached but Paterson, expressing concerning about the potential impact a strike would have on customers during hot weather, stepped in late Saturday.

Most of the union's workers maintain the utility's gas, electric and steam delivery systems for some three million customers in most of New York City and Westchester County.

The two sides didn't agree on what effect a strike would have.

The union maintained Tuesday evening that a walk out could be "catastrophic," particularly for elderly and disabled customers, Flaherty said.

"Do you think 9,000 workers can walk off the job and it not have any effect?" Flaherty said.

Con Edison, however, has insisted it can keep the power system running smoothly during a strike.

The utility has repeatedly pointed out that about half of its managers rose through its ranks and would respond to any emergencies if workers struck. However, non-emergency repairs and meter reading could be delayed, the utility has said.

In 1983, a strike by the union lasted more than two months.

During that strike, a 20-block area including the garment district went dark for days after a water main break started an electrical fire in a substation. The blackout forced hundreds of offices and stores to close.

Gimbels and Macy's department stores used emergency generators.

Crews of Con Ed supervisors worked to splice power lines to other substations and bypass the destroyed transformers. Con Edison officials at the time said the strike had no effect on the company's response to the outage.


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