Governor helps force Con Ed into an agreement

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NEW YORK - Pressure from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo forced Consolidated Edison back to the bargaining table to reach a tentative new contract with Utility Workers Local 1-2, which represents the electric firm's 8,500 workers, on July 26.

The deal follows weeks during which workers have been locked out by Con Edison and massive rallies and marches in the streets. Details of the pact were unavailable, pending ratification, said Utility Workers National President Michael Langford.

"Officers and staff of Local 1-2 and the national union wish to thank all those members, both from the local and sisters and brothers from across the country, who have offered and provided support to the locked out members of the local," he added. "That support helped the local's bargaining team achieve this agreement."

Con Ed locked out the workers at the start of July as New York wilted under a record heat wave.

There were reports that Cuomo forced the utility back to the bargaining table after the union volunteered to send half of its members back in the face of powerful thunderstorms that would have endangered the electric grid for Con Ed's nine million customers. Con Ed was trying to run the system with 5,000 retirees and supervisors.

Governor Cuomo wrote a letter to Con Ed's CEO, Kevin Burke, early last week, reminding him of the possibility of major brown outs due to the hot weather and when forecasts for last Thursday warned of impending thunderstorms with high winds he decided to intervene directly.

"It wasn't about just the contract, it was about the safety of New Yorkers," Cuomo said.

After spending some five hours with local president Harry Farrell, national president Michael Langford and chief executive officer Kevin Burke, both sides seemed pleased with the outcome and thanked the governor. Farrell, president of the local, said, "Cuomo's intervention was the key to getting a deal. It was probably one of the toughest contracts that I've done in a while, but with the governor overseeing this whole process, it really helped us move the process along."

Two weeks into the lock-out, the state AFL-CIO and the New York City Central Labor Council, headed by Vincent Alvarez, sent a letter to the state's utility oversight agency, the Public Service Commission, hoping to persuade the agency to avoid the possibility of a break down of services, endangering the health and safety of the workers and the public.

Earlier in the dispute, Craig S. Ivey, President of Con Edison who was the CEO of Dominion Energy, a non-union utility company based in Virginia, attempted to bring workers to New York to do the work of the locked-out workers. They had to return to Virginia and the D.C. area, however, because of severe storms in that area.

After negotiations broke down again many of these workers were brought back to New York to work along side management and retirees.

Con Ed was pushing for give-backs in spite of big profits. Con Edison is a Fortune 500 company ranking 209 on the Fortune list. It had profits of over one billion dollars in 2011 and has managed to cut its work force by half since the 1980's due to technology and productivity. 

There was talk on the picket line that the company's overall intent is to make itself more attractive for purchase by a larger utility company, continuing a decades-long consolidation trend in the industry nationwide. This is the trend in other industries as well in the era of globalization.

It was also suggested that this is an election year and the labor disputes that have not been resolved e.g., 45,000 regional Verizon Communications Workers of America members (out for one year this August), the 800 members of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers on strike against Caterpillar in Joliet, Illinois and other battles may be part of a strategy by the corporations to try to put the brakes on the AFL-CIO and SEIU's announcement that unions will be sending 400,000 members out to canvass for the re-election of President Obama.

Photo: Con Ed workers gather in New York on July 2.   Seth Wenig/AP

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