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.