July 3, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
The Monday following the weekend when Con Edison locked out 8,500 members of Local 1-2, union members picketed outside the company’s headquarters on Irving Place and showed their anger when a Con Edison truck drove by on 14th Street or a management employee entering the building.
The only remedy so far for the locked out workers is that they are entitled to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits of about $400 per week, a far cry from their typical salary.
According to some picketing Local 1-2 members, the company was trying to force the Local’s hand by calling a strike.
By 1:30 AM on Sunday morning, the company still had on the table a cash balance plan (to replace a defined benefit pension plan) for all Local 1-2 members. It also demanded a host of regressive measures, such as workers’ co-payments rising from $28 to $40, family medical benefits rising to $133 per week, no wage progression for seven titles and only a 1 ½ wage increase over the term of a four-year contract.
In addition, the company wants to reduce the benefits it has to contribute for workers who take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons via the Family Medical Leave Act. According to the picketing members, the company wants to be able to fire workers after 26 weeks of unpaid leave.
A distribution splicer who works on the East Side of Manhattan said, “All we want to do is to go to work, take care of our families and retire like a human being. It’s a disgrace what the company is offering because prices for everything just keeps going up.”
While the company wants no wage progression for seven titles, it already takes eight years for a distribution splicer to reach top pay.
And the work is dangerous.
“In the summer we have to contend with extreme heat in the manholes where we’re surrounded by live electrical feeders while rats and roaches crawl in the hole. There’s no reason why the company can’t offer us a fair contract with the working conditions we have to endure,” said the distribution splicer.
Another splicer stressed that the company is fooling the public by claiming it has 5,000 managers to do the work of the locked out union workers.
“I figure there are only 700 managers who know how to do our job.”
Although they couldn’t confirm the news, the picketing Local 1-2 members said that two managers were hurt in a substation in Brooklyn just after one day in the field.
The members noted that for the last three contract rounds, the company has been demanding concessions, especially the replacement of the $9 billion pension fund with a cash balance plan.
Yet another splicer said that his father “drilled into his head” growing up to get a good job with a pension and benefits so to retire securely.
“Now I may not have that. I don’t know if I can do anything else. I’ve been a splicer for 12 years.”
A five-year Con Edison employee and “proud member of Local 1-2,” said that, “Although all the major corporations are trying to crush the American dream, we still believe in it and we want a little piece of it.”
When asked if he was surprised that almost 40 percent of union households voted for Governor Scott Walker in the recall election in Wisconsin, the distribution splicer said, “That plays into the hands of the corporations. They want to eliminate the unions so to weaken the middle class. It’s a disgrace that this country is allowing this to happen.” firstname.lastname@example.org