Con Ed, Union Head Back to Negotiation Table

The contract for the union's 8,500 members expired at midnight on June 30

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    The weekslong Consolidated Edison Inc. labor talks have been reignited, along with some heated words from the union representing 8,500 workers.

    The grueling negotiations between the power company with more than 3 million customers and Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers of America began even before the contract expired at midnight June 30. Talks resumed Tuesday after a long weekend.

    Contract negotiations between the utility and the union stopped just before 2 a.m. on July 1, a couple of hours after the existing contract expired. The company told union workers to stay home until negotiators reach an agreement. Managers and out-of-state workers have replaced the union workers. Federal mediators were asked to intervene to get talks started again.

    One of the biggest rifts has been over the pension plan. Con Edison wants to switch to a cash balance plan that would give workers the choice of receiving a lump sum at retirement. This plan would give the company control over how the money is invested instead of the employee. The company says this would only affect new hires; the union disagrees.

    "The union leadership has chosen to fight for the people who do not yet work for the company," said company spokesman Alan Drury.

    The union also objects to the utility's use of contractors from out of state.

    "They are bringing in scabs from Alabama and Virginia," and have "thrown us out on the street," said union spokesman John Melia.

    Drury said Con Edison routinely uses contractors throughout the year. "We are using them now, just as we always do," he said.

    Sue Sherman, the dean of Rutgers' School of Management and Labor Relations, said both sides are playing hardball because a lot is at stake.

    Service so far has not been interrupted, but if demand increases, "you will see political figures trying to get involved," Sherman said.

    Neither Mayor Michael Bloomberg nor Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been involved in the negotiations. Cuomo's office has said it continues to monitor the situation closely.

    Four years ago during strike-threatening contract negotiations between the utility and the union, then-Gov. David Paterson became concerned about electricity customers during the hot weather, which tends to sap the energy supply and can lead to outages. Paterson intervened, almost to the day, in 2008.

    The union went on strike in 1983, returning nine weeks later when an accord was reached.

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