Con Ed Locks Out 8,500 Electrical Workers in New York City

July 14, 2012 by  

Cuts Power during Heat Wave; Union Bargains Only over How Many Give-Backs

Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions Issues Solidarity Statement

Editors’ note: MHI talked with Con Ed workers on their picket line in early July. Below is a compilation of the workers’ views, followed by an excerpt from the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions’ solidarity statement. An update on the lockout appears below in “U.S. News” (added July 30).

Our contract expired at the end of June without a new agreement in place. On July 1 at 1:30 a.m., the company locked out all 8,500 union workers. It had offered to let us work under the old contract for two weeks on condition that we did not strike, but when the union refused, it immediately locked us out. And it refuses even to let us pick up our last pay checks.

Locked out workers demonstrate outside Consolidated Edison headquarters, in New York, Thursday, July 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Con Ed, which supplies electricity and steam to millions of New Yorkers, began bargaining for a new contract by demanding twenty give-backs. It proposes to eliminate the workers’ pensions altogether, instead giving retirees a small one-time payment and opening up 401K retirement accounts for us—but not funding them. It also proposes to reduce its contribution to our medical insurance to almost nothing, meaning we would have to pay $133 a week for the insurance. In addition to those ways to lower our real pay, it wants to eliminate “premium pay” for work after midnight from our paychecks.

We’re here picketing without getting any strike benefits, the company owes us pay, and it takes three weeks for unemployment compensation to start. Some workers are talking about quitting or retiring early because they know the following contract will be even worse than the next one.

Union Bargains Only over Give-Backs

Our union, Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 1-2, didn’t ask for anything new in the next contract at all. Once again, the union is bargaining solely over how much to give back. They didn’t even ask for a pay increase that would enable us to pay for some of the benefits we would lose. It’s a company union. The same guys are in the leadership all the time. We make jokes every time a new contract comes up: “how much did we lose this time?” The last time they called a strike was in 1983, and now suddenly we are locked out. The union is so bad that many workers and union reps are not even doing their picket duty. When the union called for a mass picket last week, only about 1,000 of the 8,500 workers turned out.

The company and union are having bargaining sessions, but we don’t know what’s going on. The union doesn’t tell us, and it’s under a gag order not to publicize anything. All we know are the rumors that the news media report from “leaks.”

Power is Cut by 5 Percent without Telling Customers

The public doesn’t know it, but since the lockout, Con Ed has cut power to all its customers by five percent. They should let the public know because this reduction damages your air conditioner if you continue to run it on high. But the company wants to pretend it can manage fine without us. In fact, they are making the situation dangerous. If there is a black out during this heat wave, there will be big trouble.

Everyone should call Con Ed and say they are not going to pay their bills because of the five percent reduction.

While we’re out, management is only doing patchwork, not proper repairs. They will have us re-do all their work when we go back. Over the last years, management has been de-skilled but our jobs have gotten more complex, so they are not capable of doing the work we do.

The company also brought in crews from Virginia, North Carolina, and Atlanta—workers who are needed at home because those are places that had recent outages! And since the supervisors know nothing, the 5,000 workers they’ve brought in can’t get any help from them troubleshooting problems.

Con Ed doesn’t make the power it sells any more; it doesn’t generate more than ten percent of it. We do make steam, but mostly we distribute both steam and electricity, and maintain the infrastructure.

People tend to think Con Ed is a public company, but it’s not, it’s private. The company only cares about its stock and its stockholders. Did you know that 23% of your bill goes directly to the company, while only 5% goes for labor costs? The rest goes to buy the electricity and for taxes. The president told Forbes magazine three months ago that Con Ed was doing well, and management just got raises of 22 percent.

The game is the same all over: it’s corporate greed. Con Ed is cutting our benefits just because it can get away with it. They have been preparing for this lockout for years.

Can you imagine what it will be like for the older workers, who put years into the company expecting to have a decent pension when they retire, to now find out they will get no pension?

*    *    *

Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions’ Solidarity Statement

The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) issued a statement in support of the Con Ed workers on July 6, 2012. The statement ends with this:

“The solidarity campaign within the American Labor movement with Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2 is a source of joy and inspiration for EFIU. We join this campaign, as we consider that workers’ solidarity not only at the national but also the international level is the way that allows workers to gain their rights against savage capitalism and multi-national companies.

“Long Live the Struggle of Con Ed Workers!

“Workers of the World Unite Against the Injustice and Tyranny of Savage Capitalism!”

(Statement reprinted by the Coalition to Defend the Egyptian Revolution; see the full statement at http://www.defendegyptianrevolution.org/2012/07/07/solidarity-with-con-ed-workers-statement-by-egyptian-federation-of-independent-trade-unions/)

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