As negotiations stalled between Consolidated Edison (ConEd) and the local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America early Sunday morning, ConEd’s management locked out nearly 8,000 workers.
Unable to agree on contract issues, particularly regarding pension benefits, the latest development may put residents at risk as New York City faces temperatures in the high 90s this week.
The lockout followed union president Harry J. Farrell’s refusal to sign a proposed two-week extension, claiming that the terms of the deal would remove the union’s right to strike. As time ran out, Mr. Farrell called for the organized picketing of ConEd headquarters and company locations throughout the five boroughs.
By Monday morning, Con Ed headquarters outside Union Square had been surrounded by barricades and patrolled by police. Action was also scheduled in the Van Nest area of the Bronx.
Eric Schmidt, a ConEd welder for eight years, said nearly 100 workers arrived to picket on July 2.
“We are all kind of confused about what is actually going on,” said Mr. Schmidt, 40, noting that rumors about the negotiations were more numerous than facts.
Mr. Schmidt said that many of the workers he spoke with were worried about the future of the pensions. Along with health care, cutting company pensions is one of the issues being contested by union leadership and ConEd.
“If they plan to take my pension away, I’ll strike as long as I have to,” Mr. Schmidt said, discussing the threat of forfeiting the money accrued though yearly pension deductions. “I don’t want to lose the things I already have.”
With the East Coast suffering through a heat wave, ConEd said it would attempt to replace the 8,000 workers with temporary replacements and would utilize a crew of 5,000, retired managers to fill in the gaps. According to a report from Reuters, ConEd said it might also hire part time employees to work if tasks outstrip the company’s available workers.
According to Mr. Schmidt, many employees worry that the replacements will not be ready for the challenge. ConEd has stated that it will respond to all calls, outages or emergencies during the lockout.