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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.

Con ed joe July 12, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Ooh and the kicker... con ed just approved a 21% raise for upper managment...! Does that sound like a climate where cuts are needed for workers?
Chris July 12, 2012 at 11:01 PM
We are each entitled to our own opinions, but please, do not accuse me of calling anyone uneducated. I know just as many people who do not have a degree as I do that have one. I consider the majority of those without degrees to be some of the smartest people I know. The only thing a college degree says about you is that your parent had enough money to send you to school. I am all for a healthy debate, but please don't accuse me of things that are not true. I have MANY friends who are out of work because of this, and I just wish that both sides could give a little and come to an agreement.
Chris July 12, 2012 at 11:07 PM
The name calling is uncalled for. I am not a GOLD associate, and I have worked very hard for all of the things that I have. I have my own business and I know exactly how hard it is to make ends meet when there is no money coming in. The point I was trying to make was that there are those out there who work really hard and don't have a pension or health insurance or any of the benefits the union workers do.
Brooklyn July 13, 2012 at 11:54 AM
Anyone who doesn't know the difference between LOSE & LOOSE is ignorant. Go look at he previous statements.
Swifty 55 July 13, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Chris, that's why Unions are important so all people can eventually have benefits & a pension. If it were not for unions there would be no " Middle Class" for the last 100 years. A Corporate Bully can pick on individuals one by one but with 8,500 united as one Corporations have to the right thing. If it were not for unions tere would be no pensions or heath plans. For three generations it has worked without a problem. Think about that.
john thehorse July 14, 2012 at 07:12 PM
All this talk about taking away pensions is bs. Pensions will ONLY BE CHANGED FOR NEWLY HIRED EMPLOYEES. Get the facts right or keep quiet
Con ed joe July 14, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Actually the offer from the company was anyone hired after july 2 2012 will get cash balance pensions..which basically would be breaking the union or splitting the house, whichever way you want to call it..that defeats the.purpose of a union if we all dont have the same rights! Is it fair for me to say, well at least I get my pension, screw tue new brother and sisters that.join the company after me? Thats very selfish and again defeats the purpose of having a union. If you read the offer it also said that people who are grandfathered in with their pensions, they will keep them for atleast 2 contracts when it will be "revisisted" meaning they will try to take them away again as by then the company figures many will retire, or just not care about new hires, and maybe even the majority, at least 51%, will have cash balance pensions after majority retires giving the company leverage to push for cash balance for all. I have been attending every meeting,rally,conferance, as well as been reading every release by both the union and company, so I am straight on my facts.. Sounds like you only read what the.company tells the media and then put your head back in the sand.
john nap July 14, 2012 at 11:55 PM
Oh yea bob they offered us to work 2 weeks afte the contract was up. Why mr not it all? Because the heat wave was coming and they wabted the right people to be there to fix it and that woukd be US THE UNION, Then they would xome back with the same take backs on our contract and leave us for the dogs. Sure bob you know it all as long as your ass is in air condition and dont you worry about us union people who one day wont make it back home due to a manhole fire and we are in that manhole. Did you know Mr Dillman bob ? I dont think you did. I use the word did because he DIED in a manhole fire bob. So yea lets work those extra 2 weeks for this scumbag company just for you bob
kitkat July 16, 2012 at 06:20 PM
let us not forget that con ed workers are 9/11 heroes- including my husband who was forced to work 16 hour shifts at ground zero for 10 days straight and never received any recognition for it or even a handshake for their service...even after being diagnosed with a lung condition and having to worry about his health... he now has to worry about how he will take care if his family while he is alive. please support these 8500 employees who work hard for us and put their lives in danger and give them a sensible contract and their dignity.
Jo Jo July 17, 2012 at 12:01 PM
Con Edison management has a HISTORY of discrimination and retaliation toward any Union worker who does not kiss their fat asses. Just ask me, I watched while my husband with 36 years of service was beaten down and forced to retire once he became sick. Management made his life miserable, but WE WON in the end!!! Now it will be Con Edison's turn to pay....
mike July 17, 2012 at 04:29 PM
so companies are looking for their employees to accept cuts in health care and other fought for benefits because the economy is doing poorly. When the economy recovers, and it will, will the companies look to restore what was taken away. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one
mike July 17, 2012 at 04:32 PM
happy to support their effort
Mikey Z July 18, 2012 at 06:10 PM
These comments, for the most part are unbelievable, corporate greed, too big to fail. As my wife says to me just be glad to have a job. I am working twice as hard and making 1/3 of what I used to, paycheck to paycheck. Everyone should just cut the whining and take a job, immigrants come here and work for far less then $15 an hour, just ot get a job and chase a dream. Washington -- both sides of the isle - have really f...ked this up big time from Bush to Obama. Tax more, great solution, if you taxed the entire top 2% in this country on total wealth at a 100% tax rate (they all go to the poor house, or go to work for ConEd) the dent in our natinal deficit would be less then 5%. We can't even pay the interest onour debt without borrowing more -- transfer the burden to future generations, we'll all be dead by then. the USA is bankrupt, forget recession/depression. If I could make $15 an hour at ConEd I would at work tomorrow. Lets stop blaming the rich -- anybody who'd rather be poor please respond as I am glad to supplement by negative net worth with anything you want to give me. 92% of people i nthe countryare employed in companies of fewer then 100 employees. Lets grow up, take some responsibility, stop this class envy, its counter productive and not what our founding fathers had in mind.
Lexi Anspasch July 18, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Burke is the greediest ba$tard of all but let's not forget Ivey,Cuomo,Bloomberg....... They're all lining each others pockets. I'm astounded that there are people writing in that are in favor of managment. First off,yes, SOME of the managers "once" worked in the field but most only know about the job from college courses they took and believe me,they've no idea how to do hands on work. Remember that every summer they sit on their a$$e$ in an air conditioned office ,winter in a heated office and are safe from the elements.The real worker gives 100%.They've been trained by the 'A' mechanics.I know I don't want a doctor who has never operated on anyone giving me an operation. Burke and the rest live in their ivory towers while you and I work out butts off for a living.Burke even has asked for another raise. People,you should be outraged.We also need to 'think' before we vote. Bloomberg and Cuomo seem to be invisible,they just issue statements saying "We're keeping an eye on it". How about Burke ,Ivey,Cuomo,Bloomberg put their money where their mouth is and do one day down in a manhole. Why are we making the rich richer while the city goes under.
mike July 18, 2012 at 06:28 PM
i really don't buy the class envy defense. The fact is the % of their income that the wealthiest pay, the so called 1%, is significantly less than what everyone else pays. This is a matter of fairness. Why should passive type income, like dividends, pay at an effective rate of tax much less than income earned from labor. This becomes especially significant when people earn millions each year in dividends and capital gains without any limit to the amount of income that can be generated from these areas.
Swifty 55 July 18, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Forget about Bloomberg, he is gone after his term is up. What about "No Show" Gov Cuomo not responding to NYC & Unions about the Lockout. He is writing a Unemployment Check for $3.5 million dollars a week to the Locked Out Workers & the State is losing another $ 4.5 Million state Dollars in the unpaid taxes these locked out workers provide. That will be $80 million dollars in unpaid taxes/unemployment in 10 weeks (The length of the last strike). Spend the Dough Cuomo does not mind because his Best Friend & Confidante Michael DiGuidice is on the Con Edison Board of Directors. Severe Conflict of Interest. Vote No for Cuomo .........
Mikey Z July 18, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Sounds dangerous and precarious, but in the end its YOUR choice to work. I am not for CEO or Senior Execs making the kind of money these guys are, but that isn't your job, you have only to decide whether its worth the effort and potential harm to either work or not, but don't whine about greedy, fat asses at the top, Its all up to you, if you feel its that dangerous and aren't being compensated for it, quit. I am sure you can find another job that will compensate you correctly for the perils you face, your skill set and expereince.
Lexi Anspasch July 18, 2012 at 07:59 PM
We should demand that Cuomo be thrown out of office,he's a do nothing like his father!
Mikey Z July 18, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Thats my point on taxation. As an example, lets tax families 100% on wealth above say $10 million (the top 2% group) so Warren Buffet pays roughly $39.99 billion in taxes for the weath he has created. If we took the entire population of familes at that $10+ million wealth level and above added it all together, taxed it at the most progressive rate possible (100%), it would still only cut less then 5% off of our annual deficit. Much less at those rates, no business in the US could attract capital and the first assets to go are human (outsourcing). Canada and Bermuda at 15% tax rates are saying "We're Open for Business", The US is forcing people to do business offshore, Invest - rich, middle class or poor - mutual funds, IRA, and pensions to giant Hedge Funds, we'll tax you when you bring the money back as dividends, but don't do anything in the USA that actually means providing a service, producing something. Its class envy, people may complain, think they are owed something and get upset with Wall Street, but given the choice for pensions, IRAs, 401Ks, where would you want to invest to gain the highest return and how much are you willing to pay in taxes? We're talking about 2% of the country here, people begrudge those who are more successful or lucky (maybe a silverspoon or lottery winner), Why? it does no good and won't create jobs or improve the economy until we figure out entitlements and get people to take individual responsibility for their own success or failure.
mike July 19, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Mike Z you do make some good points about taxing our way out this fiasco. My point was not to say that we could tax our way out of this but rather a matter of fairness or perceived fairness. I'm sure you've heard the complaints about the number of people that pay no tax at all. Now there likely are scam artists out there that evade taxes but also there are many people that make barely enough to survive. So targeting these people is simply a strategy employed by certain people to take the attention away from themselves. The number of people living below the poverty level in this country exceeds the population of California. The notion that lowering taxes even more for the rich has already taken place via the Bush tax cuts and the job growth from that move has not been worth the cost. So expecting job growth from another round of tax cuts is simply not prudent. We need a balanced approach that includes government spending to stimulate economic growth as well as a long term deficit reduction plan. Excessive spending cuts cause massive suffering as witnessed by what is transpiring in Europe and simply does nothing to stimulate growth in fact it makes the situation worse. If more money is placed in the hands of people that spend, rather than save or invest, that will send a clear signal to businesses to hire regardless of what the tax climate is. There is this tremendous pent up demand out there that simply lacks the capital to satisfy that demand.
Mikey Z July 19, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Mike, agree completely with your analysis. As you point out its about both taxation and more government spending. My concern is I run my family on cash only, 1 debit card and a decent mortgage and don't spend money i don't have -- can't believe (Iknow this sounds pollyanna that families or a government would spend more then they have) I think the singest biggest issue facing our country right now is certainity of outcome and a complete lack of confidence in the economy. Personally a big fan of Milton Friedman and Laffer, but even Keynesians would agree that leverage is only good while the underlying asset is increasing in value and providing cashflow to service the debt and the cost of debt is lower then the increase in value on that asset.. Basic theory in miond, is keep taxes where they ae maybe hit the top 2% something more on both passive and active income, work really hard on the entitlements side to reduce spending. I will also admit as a small business, having this Obamacare, along with social security and medicaid any government that controls 40% of our economy is really scarry.
mike July 19, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Yes Mikey...the fact that corporations are sitting on unprecedented levels of cash is evidence enough of the levels of uncertainty. When corporations do commence their spending this will have a good and a bad effect. On the bad side inflation will rear it's ugly head. However, inflation does have a positive side in that it encourages people to spend because of the attempt to overcome rising prices. Excessive government regulation does have some effect on levels of uncertainty but on the other hand look at what the banks and wall street did when unemcumbered by regulation. We need to find a happy middle ground on this so that we encourage economic activity but be vigilant of the impact of the lack of regulations.
Jc July 24, 2012 at 11:25 AM
Look I make a lot less than these guys do. I don't have any benifets . I work storms, in the heat and have to support my family. They need to quit their petty whinning and be thankful the have a job. Every big company is out for themselves !!! If u don't like it get another job!!
virgil doug adams July 25, 2012 at 07:14 PM
thats true jc .go to work and stop your baby crying. by the way them contractors fm out of state are damm good. and doing a awesome Job, yall better go back to work.
Jenny July 26, 2012 at 09:39 PM
well hopefully they came to something good for the workers.
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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