Con Edison, union end talks for weekend

July 8, 2012 7:03:04 AM PDT
Consolidated Edison Inc. and the union representing its employees have ended their negotiations for the weekend.

A spokesman for the utility said Saturday that talks will continue Tuesday at noon.

Negotiations between the power company and Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers of America have been ongoing for weeks, and stretched past a contract deadline that expired last Saturday at midnight.

A union spokesman has said the bargaining is looking grim. Both sides say there are still many sticking points, including changing pension terms.

The union represents about 8,500 workers. Con Edison has more than 3 million customers and has been using managers in the field. The talks are occurring as New York suffers through hot weather. Many parts of the Northeast are under heat advisories.

Meanwhile, a noisy protest continued Friday near Union Square in Manhattan. A crowd of around 300 union employees stood in front of the Con Edison headquarters, some playing drums and trumpets. Others were performing the "Tomahawk Chop" heard at Atlanta Braves and Florida State games; this time, the war chant was referring to Con Edison CEO Kevin Burke.

The negotiations broke down last weekend. On Thursday, the company put out a full-page ad blasting the union.

"We believe it is important to communicate with our customers and let them know why the union employees are not at work," Con Edison spokesman Alan Drury said.

The union fired back with a statement: "Con Edison sunk to a new low with today's misleading print ads. It's bad enough that the company locked out workers who were willing to work past contract expiration with no strings attached, but now the Con Edison is spending its customers' money to justify its deplorable actions."

Louis Cardillo, Dennis Scruto and Alex Palladino began picketing at 8 a.m. They say their union isn't asking for much; they want to maintain their pensions and have a better health care package.

Con Edison has been replacing union workers in the field with managers, and says three of them have suffered injuries during those duties. Cardillo, Scruto and Palladino say managers don't have enough experience for dangerous work.

"This shows that the company bigwigs are disconnected from what is happening on the ground," said Scruto, who's been working for the company for 42 years.

Drury agreed that the work is dangerous, but said such injuries can happen to any of the workers.

The city has been fighting a heat wave, which tends to put a strain on utilities. Con Edison announced a 5 percent voltage reduction in some Brooklyn neighborhoods. It said scattered outages are customary in the summer and that crews were making repairs.

The good news is that residents in the affected areas were still able to use their air conditioning and other appliances, the utility said.

Back at the protests, the union employees said the resumption of negotiations made them hopeful.

"We just want to go back to work," said Jeanette Grant, a 31-year veteran. "We cannot afford to stay out here for long."

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