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Con Ed workers picket with negotiations, heat wave on horizon

Con Edison workers Al Villarosa (l.), from Long Island, and Dan C., from Whitestone, wave to motorists who honk in support. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Consolidated Edison workers picketed outside several locations in Queens this week, as rising temperatures were set to put a strain on the city’s electrical infrastructure.

“Every day where it hits 90 degrees, there is a real danger of small outages, but possibly a large outage as well,” said Bob McCarron, a member of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2, who was standing outside the company’s College Point facility in the beating sun Monday.

About 8,500 workers have been locked out after contract negotiations broke down July 1, and as of press time Tuesday afternoon the dispute over pensions, the main sticking point in the talks to forge a new contract, had not been resolved. The next round of talks were scheduled for Wednesday.

Many workers were spending their days camped out in front of facilities in College Point, Long Island City and Jamaica.

“This is our livelihood,” said Al Villarosa, who has been out with his fellow union members on 31st Avenue in College Point nearly every day since the lockout.

The power company released a statement Monday that it had reduced voltage by 5 percent in several neighborhoods across the city and assured residents that everything is under control.

The company has about 5,000 members of management working on emergency service repairs only, though the union contends that less than a fifth of the replacement crews are adequately trained to work in the field, which sometimes involves working in extremely hot manholes, cooling transformers with water or handling electrical wires.

“Our management employees are all trained and experienced for the jobs they are doing. From splicing cable, working in substations to handling customer inquiries and other functions, our management workforce is ready,” the utility said in a statement.

This sentiment was not echoed by workers.

“It’s a danger to the public,” said Joe Mussillo, a mechanic at Con Ed and a member of the union’s executive board.

And if a major outage were to take place, Mussillo said he did not know how the situation would be resolved for the more than 3.2 million customers the company serves in the five boroughs and Westchester County.

“I don’t know what would happen,” he said, adding that the union would not work without a contract.

Con Ed initially stopped health benefits for the employees and their families, a move that generated a significant backlash from the union and prompted the benefits to be reinstated.

“We took another look and decided to treat all employees the same, regardless of whether they worked a few hours on July 1,” the company said in a statement following the reinstatement.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) criticized the utility for the timing of the lockout in a letter addressed to Con Ed CEO Kevin Burke July 11.

“Let me be clear. Your actions do not have my support.” Quinn said. “Con Edison’s decision to unilaterally impose a lockout during a heat wave, after 30 years of no job disruptions, was an escalation of management/labor tensions to an unprecedented degree, placing many New Yorkers’ lives in danger.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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