Con Edison Locks Out 8,000 Workers: Can it Still Deal with the Heat Wave?

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by Laurent Berstecher Over 8,000 Con Edison workers were locked out on Sunday after talks with the Utility Workers Union of America broke down. A weekend of hard negotiations and the impending heat wave did not help both sides reach an agreement. Con Edison says it has dispatched 5,000 people, mostly managers and retired supervisors, to fill in for the locked out workers. Con Edison says it has offered the unionized workers a two week extension on their contract, provided that they wouldn't go on strike without giving a 7 days notice. The union came up with a proposal of its own, claiming it was ready to keep workers on the job without a contract until the end of the negotiations. Both offers were rejected by the respective parties, but Con Ed says that the deal is still on the table. Meanwhile, Con Edison spokesman Allan Drury said that the 5,000 managers who had been asked to fill in for regular workers were "trained and experienced," adding that Con Edison would continue to provide its regular services as the summer's worst heat wave yet has begun to loom over the North East. In a statement, Con Edison also said that "all company personnel has been preparing for the possibility of a union work stoppage for months." Many union workers, however, did no share that optimism. "[Con Edison] has placed their customers and the public at great peril," union spokesperson John Melia told the Daily News. Melia said the managers that have been called to replace union workers "don't have the knowledge or the expertise" to operate the system on the long term. Union President Harry Farrell shared similar concerns: "They're asking retired supervisors to climb poles and work in manholes and stuff ? I just don't see it happening." "As temperatures rise and the threat of power outages grows, I urge Con-Ed to end the lockout it has imposed and for all parties to resume good faith negotiations," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. "Con-Ed employees deserve respect and a fair contract, and residents of the New York City region deserve assurances their power will continue without interruption as the heat wave continues. Both goals can be achieved if we work together and settle this dispute amicably--and as soon as possible." Con Edison sure won't be having it easy, as a series of storms last Friday have caused massive power outages all over the East Coast, leaving over two million people without power. All this in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave that has seen temperatures hover in the high 90's this weekend. Scattered power outages were also recorded in Queens and the Bronx on Sunday. Con Ed spokeswoman Sara Banda however claims that those small-scales blackouts are typical of this time of year, and that the 650 power outages recorded in Queens on Sunday were in fact below average. With both sides blaming each other for the breakdown in talks, it is hard to tell whether the Union is taking advantage of the heat wave to make unreasonable demands, or whether Con Edison is being unnecessarily stubborn in conducting the negotiations. Either way, both sides seem far from reaching a compromise. "Consolidated Edison and the utility workers union must go back to thebargaining table and start talks again," urged New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. "Resolving this impasse and lockoutis in everyone's best interest. With temperatures high, customers needassurance that service will not interrupted." Meanwhile, the heat wave is showing no sign of slowing down. It may be time to buy an inflatable pool, or for us less-fortunate city dwellers, to start sacrificing some goats to the almighty Spirit of Air Conditioning.

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