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Update: Behind the Con Ed Strike — A Just Cause or A Need for Greed?

ConEd and union settle dispute after both sides agreed to a new four-year deal.

Update, July 26th 4:25 p.m.: Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) is ending its lockout of union workers after 26 days, with the approval of a new four-year contract, according to Crain's New York Business.

Both parties are attributing the agreement to Governor Andrew Cuomo who brought the sides together in his office to discuss a .

It was Wednesday, July 4, 2012, and a few tenants in our building decided to collaborate on a rooftop party—a gathering to watch the fireworks across the Hudson River.

But instead of it being a small, intimate gathering as was planned, half of the entire block must have showed up for a glimpse at what was clearly a spectacular view from our 12-floor high-rise.

In no time, the roof became an overcrowded fire hazard, and eventually, as predicted, a group of revelers got stuck in the elevator.

The firetrucks came, and in order to open the elevator doors, the firemen had to disconnect it from the electrical circuit. In other words, they turned off the electricity in the entire building. The lights went out, the entire building was in the dark, and the party... was over.

By morning, the electricity still had not been turned back on. That's when the tenants began their calls to Con Edison. There was an automated message that said that due to a "work stoppage by our union employees," there would be long delays in responding to any power outages.

That meant food in the refrigerator would soon spoil, no hot water or electric shaving to prepare for work, no stove for cooking, and no television or Internet.

We'd heard about the workers lockout, which began that previous Sunday, but we thought, surely it would have been resolved by now... We were confused (and some were furious): How could this happen in a city like New York, so heavily reliant on electrical power?

Was this a case of a union looking out for self at the worst possible time in the year? Surely, we'd melt in these temperatures with no air conditioning or fans. And not to mention, at night, the security system could be breached in the building without electricity and become even more dangerous with no lights.

Finally, a few of us sauntered over to the local cafe to pick up a WiFi signal. We learned that Con Ed had locked out 8,500 of its unionized workers (Local 1-2) in the midst of contract negotiations, after the Utility Workers Union refused to agree to give seven days notice before their strike.

Why were they striking? Well, as the economy hobbles about on wobbly legs, employers definitely are feeling it in their bottom lines. For Con Ed's part, they want badly to renegotiate the unionized workers' contracts to eliminate defined-benefit pensions and increase union members’ healthcare contributions to deal with the flailing economy.

Employers are blaming unions with their fixed contracts and who are unwilling to bend in a climate that requires more flexibility than ever. Employers say unions are squeezing the life out of their business operations.

And so now, across America, the trend for employers, it seems, is to squeeze the unions right back. Lockouts have become increasingly common in recent years, as emboldened employers are getting more and more proactive at forcing givebacks on union members.

However for the workers' part, they say it all comes down to corporate greed: “We're out here because the company didn’t want to pay us. They want to cut medical, they want to cut our pension, they want to cut our wages,” said Chris Spadafora, a mechanic for Con Ed, who was among the 1,000 union employees picketing outside Con-Ed's doors. “But they have a CEO who makes $4,800 per hour!”

Con Ed took in nearly $13 billion in revenues and more than a billion dollars in profits, while, according to Spadafora, the average wage of a Local 1-2 member is $30 per hour.

What do you think? Is Con Ed justified in requiring unionized workers begin to negotiate with greater flexibility, or are companies using the weak economy as leverage to exercise their need for greed?

Either way, it's summer in NYC. And with the heat levels and crime levels, we cannot afford to deal with the consequences of power outages that go unaddressed.

Take our poll, and tell us what you think in the comments.

PowerGridTech July 28, 2012 at 05:43 PM
PowerGridTech I must say I never go on blogs but since I'm a Local 1-2 union worker who was part of the now infamous "lockout" I can now see the importance of this aspect of the internet. I've picked up some vital knowledge as have many I know who made negative comments about union workers ...as a union worker. That's for another posting. Simply wanted to give credit to those of my union brothers and sisters for setting the record straight on some of these blanketed media induced comments. I wonder who fought to get what we now know as a 8/hr day 40/hr workweek ... hmmm was it a management worker? I don't think so! Don't get me wrong as a union member I'm not pro union or anti management I try to look at the principle in things. There negatives and positives from both sides. I have a younger cousin who came in as a gold associate. Should I not eat with him at family gatherings. We exchange our experiences and try to keep it moving. We both know all this tug of war is bigger than us. As we used to say, "WE'RE JUST SOME SQUIRRELS TRYING TO GET SOME NUTS" in the grand scheme of things. Only thing is, like us New Yorkers our squirrels....are a tad more aggressive. That being said we fight for what we think is right and. I guess Ivey League didn't realize he was playing in the Major Leagues when he came hear.
PowerGridTech July 28, 2012 at 05:52 PM
To Lexi and Con Ed Joe great comments Joe great comment about the pension . I had arguments with folks about this.
PowerGridTech July 28, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Sorry, I keep hitting the damn submit button on this iPhone before I'm finished. Joe Suppose the people before me said on the next contract cut the pension I've got mine. I'd be sitting here without one And that's within the last ten years, Thanks for helping me and my family Thanks Lexi on comment about College grad theory vs experience and basically courage.
PowerGridTech July 28, 2012 at 07:00 PM
My stepfather who passed away in 2010 worked at Public Service ( the power company) in Jamaica West Indies as a union member later becoming what is equivalent to a Junior Engineer. He eventually came to the US and obtained his college degrees( BS and Masters) from Polytechnic in Bklyn. He also had his professional PE license for the tri state area and was a lifetime member of IEEE. He always told me, I know you would love to follow in my footsteps.. Just remember, college is not for everyone, we all have our place in this society. If you never pursue a college degree like mysel,f remember this... at least try to join a union. They sometime make just as much or more money than me and I respect everything those union guys(ladies) do. I was once one of them and I would never look down on them because of who or where I am today. He said he respected the theoretical and hands on training that the company provided back in Jamiaca. Having theory with hands on is a powerhouse he once said. No pun intended. It was and will always be a dangerous job.
PowerGridTech July 28, 2012 at 07:00 PM
In the end we as Coned Union Workers have a lot more insight combined into the inner workings of this thing we call the power grid . As usual alot is taken for granted when most customers just simply plug in there laptops or flip a switch and have no clue as to how the light's don't flicker. If you ever knew what went on behind the seens you're eyes would bulge out like a kid on Christmas morning. So when you saw us in the streets ... Thanks for honking your horns at the lockout of 2012.

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