WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — With a heat wave bearing down on Westchester County, Con Edison officials say the company is confident it is up to the task of maintaining operations after locking out its union workers when contract talks failed Sunday.
When the contract’s midnight deadline passed and negotiations between Con Ed and Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers of America broke down early Sunday morning, 5,000 managers were called in to replace the 8,500 union workers.
Local 1-2 spokesman John Melia said the union leadership will talk to Con Ed for the first time since the negotiations collapsed at a Thursday meeting arranged by federal mediators and “see what they have to say.” Con Ed said its most recent offer to extend the workers’ current contract until July 14 while talks continue is still on the table.
Leading up to Thursday’s meeting, Con Ed Public Affairs Manager Allan Drury said, “We’re doing fine. We had scattered outages, which happens during the summer, but we’ve responded and gotten customers back into service,” he said. “We responded quickly and efficiently.”
In addition to the 5,000 management employees who have been preparing for a work stoppage for months, Drury said, the company has ramped up its use of contractors in the past few days. Retired management employees are also available to help out, he said.
Melia said the company is endangering the public and misrepresenting its safety record when it assures people it has experienced workers in place.
According to published reports, a manager who was filling in for union workers was burned yesterday while handling a fire at a substation in Brooklyn. Melia said reports by the company that the burns were minor minimized the severity of the man’s injuries.
“If you’ve experienced a third degree burn,” he said, “it’s not minimal.”
Melia said the union has received reports from inside the company that the replacement workers are doing a less-than-stellar job covering for unionized workers.
“They’re dropping equipment off at the wrong places, they’re working on the wrong live cables, they’re jerry-rigging electricity,” he said. “If one of our people did it out in the field the way they’re doing it, they would be fired.”
Even though the company has a limited capacity to provide non-emergency services at this time, Con Ed has advised customers that they can still call 800-75CONED for emergencies. Con Ed said the company’s walk-in centers will be closed and meter readings will be suspended, but payments will continue to be processed through all other regular channels including online at ConEd.com.