Truck drivers honked their support and bikers gave thumbs up as they passed the handful of Con Edison Workers who protested on Tuesday outside Con Edison’s Learning Center on Vernon Boulevard, in Long Island City.
Contract talks broke down July 1 after the workers’ contract expired at midnight.
Both sides said there are many issues on which they have not reached agreement, including pensions for union workers, wages, pay freezes and healthcare costs.
“I feel terrible,” said Patricia Erickson, a Con Ed worker from the 14th Street/East River Power House. She said she moved from her previous job to Con Ed because of the pension and now she wonders why she bothered.
Originally, Con Ed offered workers a two-week extension on the contract, on condition they promise not to suddenly strike during that time. The union refused, and the utility declared a lockout, saying 8,500 workers would be replaced by 5,000 managers to keep services running. The locked out workers are not receiving pay, but Con Ed administrative assistant Frank Caira said they are eligible for immediate unemployment benefits.
“I don’t think we’re asking for anything unreasonable,” Erikson said.
The unionized workers told the company they would be willing to work without a contract to keep the power company running, according to Utility Workers Local 1-2 spokesman John Melia.
But the utility also said that management asked union leadership to allow their employees to return to work immediately, with only 72 hours notice of a strike, and the union still refused.
Con Ed said that advance notice is important because it allows the company time to plan accordingly.
“Imagine if a crew working on an outage at your home or business suddenly picked up their tools and left. We owe it to you — our customers — to prepare for any work stoppage,” Con Ed said in a prepared statement issued on July 2. “We need to balance the demands of the union leadership with the needs of our customers.”
Still, the union, touting the company’s profitable stock prices, said it wanted to retain the right to strike at any time.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), whose mother was a member of Local 1893 of the International Brotherhood of Painters and his father has been a lifelong member of Printers’ and Pressman’s Union, said it’s not right that a profitable company is talking about taking away pensions from its workforce.
“I am extremely unhappy that Con Ed has chosen to lock out thousands of hardworking men and women,” Van Bramer said. “Unlike the CEO, these employees do not make millions of dollars, but are hardworking people trying to get by.”
The company has since released a new contract offer on Tuesday in an effort to end the now 11-day lockout. The contract raises wages by 10 percent over four years. Additionally employees hired before July 1 of this year will maintain their pension plan. Employees hired after July 1 will get to apply a cash balance to a pension formula. The company will increase its contribution to a 401(k) plan.
In exchange, employees’ contribution to a healthcare plan will stay at 17 percent, but grow to 24 percent by the fourth year.
“Ultimately the workers have to decide what they want and what they can support,” Van Bramer said. “And I support them because they know what is most important to them and what will keep them and their families secure.”
Melia said the proposal is a lie.
“We would be paying $11,000 in health care,” he said. “They are giving with one hand and taking with the other.”
Workers as of press time are still locked out, aren’t getting paid and as of June 30 they no longer had any health benefits, according to Regina McFadden, a meter tester from the 3rd Avenue Brooklyn Yard, who was protesting outside the Con Ed Learning Center on Tuesday
“We’re not going to let Con Ed take away everything we’ve worked for,” Local 1-2 union rep and meter reader Aidan Wlach said.
— additional reporting by Will Sammon
The name AIDAN WLACH was misspelled in the printed version of this story, and has been corrected in the above version. We regret the mistake.