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July 17th, 2012
by Robert M. Hayes
Because the dog days of summer haven’t really hit us yet, it is important that Con Edison executives and its union leaders bargain in good faith to end the lockout and ensure that all New Yorkers – from residents to small businesses and large corporations – continue getting electricity.
We at BALCONY, the Business and Labor Coalition of New York, are especially concerned with the economic impact of this lockout. The recession and lagging economy have shuttered many small businesses and left others hanging on precariously.
Any substantial power loss could destroy many of these small businesses, which range from mom-and-pop stores to corner bodegas to places where we get our shirts dry cleaned to small restaurants where many of us enjoy an occasional meal.
There are tens of thousands of small businesses across New York, many of them – 97,231 to be exact, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute – are owned by immigrants, hard-working people who came here in pursuit of the American Dream.
It would be a tragedy if any of those businesses – or businesses owned by non-immigrants – would have to shut their doors.
Restaurants and grocery stores for example would not only lose customers but also thousands of dollars in perishables like meat, fruit and vegetables. A couple of days of that would force many to close.
As with any labor dispute, there are two sides to the story and often the issues are complicated.
What is not in dispute is that Con Ed locked out some 8,500 of its workers on July 1 and replaced them with managers and retired supervisors.
The dispute focused on wages, health care and pensions. Several days after the lockout began, Con Ed offered workers a wage increase of more than 10% over four years, but remained steadfast on its insistence that new hires move to a cash-balance pension plan. It also wants to raise workers’ contributions toward health insurance from 17% to 24% over the four years.
Leaders of Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America, which rejected the offer, strongly object to the pension proposal, saying it would divide the union. After nearly two weeks, the sides were still far apart.
Con Ed brought in 5,000 managers and retired supervisors to replace the workers, saying they could deal with any emergencies. The union claims the replacements are untrained and note that at least three of the new workers were hurt in accidents in the first few days of the lockout.
The lingering heat wave and shortage of workers have also led to power reductions in certain neighborhoods, angering residents and business owners who recently got socked with an average 2.5% rate increase.
The summer heat is not going away soon, raising the risk of brownouts or blackouts. We can only hope that cooler heads prevail at the bargaining table.
Any substantial power loss would not only affect small businesses, but could endanger the safety of all New Yorkers
Con Ed and its union must work to reach a settlement as if lives depend on it – because, in fact, they do.
Robert M. Hayes is a Co-Chair of BALCONY and Senior Vice President for Health Quality, Universal American Corp.