Power workers ask state to order end to NYC lockout
NEW YORK, July 12 |
NEW YORK, July 12 (Reuters) - New York City power workers called on state regulators to order Consolidated Edison to end its lockout of the unionized workers, charging ConEd is violating regulatory obligations by its action in the labor contract negotiations.
The New York State Public Service Commission, which regulates power companies in the state, said on Thursday it has asked ConEd to respond to the allegations by next Tuesday.
The petition, filed by lawyers for the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA), asks the PSC to investigate whether ConEd is providing "quality, reliability and safety" of service, since it locked out 8,500 UWUA members on July 1.
The utility has 5,000 managers trained to deal with power service emergencies or failures, and has also brought in crews from other states.
The union's petition, dated Wednesday, calls on the PSC to direct the company to immediately end its lockout of workers during the investigation.
Anne Dalton, a spokeswoman for the agency in Albany, said the PSC would decide its next step after ConEd responded but noted there was no precedent of a similar lockout in New York state.
ConEd spokesman Alan Drury confirmed receiving the PSC request.
"The union leadership rejected our offer to extend the old contract, without a work stoppage, while negotiations continued," he said. "We cannot operate our energy systems safely for New Yorkers if we do not have some kind of adequate notice of a strike or other job action.
"Between management employees and contractors, we are able to fill our staffing needs for emergency calls and outages, Drury said.
Meanwhile, negotiators for both sides were sitting down for talks on Thursday afternoon, after meeting twice previously this week. On Tuesday, ConEd made a new contract offer in an attempt to end the standoff, which began July 1 when the company locked out the workers as a union strike deadline expired.
A major sticking point in the negotiations has been Con Edison's move to phase out defined pensions for union workers, as well as disagreement over wages and healthcare costs.
In the new offer, the company proposed to maintain the current defined benefit pension formulas for all employees hired before July 1, 2012 and apply a cash-balance, defined-benefit pension formula for employees hired after that date.
Union spokesman Jon Melia said the locked-out workers were not being paid and were having to draw unemployment as the union only has a small strike fund, which is used to pay for lawyers.
"This is a cynical ploy by ConEd to throw the issue at the taxpayers," he said.
Last week, there was a series of brownouts in parts of New York City, raising fears of a bigger blackout if the system was strained by increased demand during a brutal heat wave with temperatures nearing 100 degrees F (38 degrees Celsius).
But temperatures this week have returned to around the average July mark of around 85 degrees.
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