July 16, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
At 7:00 AM on Wednesday, July 11 at the 3rd Avenue Yard just off 4th Avenue in Brooklyn Local 1-2 members were already standing outside the Con Ed facility. They were conversing as they normally do before entering the building to report to work before the company lock out. Unfortunately, they were setting up beach chairs outside the facility and lugging coolers filled with ice and Poland Spring water bottles to settle in for yet another day of being locked out.
At different rallies and gatherings throughout the city, Local 1-2 members have been vocal and expressed frustration over the company’s actions. They’ve been holding up high different placards, notably one that reads, “Whatever It Takes.” But at the 3rd Avenue yard, there seemed to be a sense of complacency permeating among the members as they stood or sat while multiple Con Ed vehicles driven by supervisors and possibly scab contractors from out-of-state drove in and out of the yard with very little reaction from the members.
Surprisingly, some of the trucks pulled up alongside the curb where members began talking to the guys driving the trucks, who essentially are doing the work of Local 1-2 members. But some of the members said they hold no hostility because the drivers and helpers in the trucks come from the union ranks and worked up to become supervisors. It’s hard to imagine, however, when one reads the history of the 1930s labor movement, that locked out workers back then would be talking amicably with supervisors doing their jobs.
Bob Vuono, a Local 1-2 executive board member, said in an interview that the union is readying for a big rally next week. In fact, The New York City Central Labor Council notified its membership base that there will be a march and rally to and at Union Square on Tuesday, July 17 at 5:30 pm to support Local 1-2 locked out members.
The union is banking on public pressure as one way to force the company’s hand. Depending on the turnout on Tuesday, many more people in the city will undoubtedly see first-hand the support New York’s labor movement will provide to Local 1-2. But beyond hoping for public pressure to turn the tide, the support and actions to date hasn’t put any economic pressure on the company to end the lockout.
When asked if, rather than standing idly under a hot sun, the members outside the 3rd Avenue yard were to block Con Ed trucks from entering and leaving, Vuono said, “We’re not going to do that. We don’t want the public to see us as a bunch of thugs.”
One Local 1-2 member turned to Vincent Kyne, a business agent for the union, and said, “This isn’t working [pointing to the members standing around outside]. We need to do something big, like all 8,500 of us marching to a main facility.”
Kyne also expressed caution and restraint. “Right now, we have the sympathy of the public, and we really don’t want to jeopardize that.”
Kyne is also worried the press will brand the union as a bunch of radicals. “We prefer to get the message out to the public that we’re just hard-working people that do jobs that nobody else in the world does,” said Kyne.
In an interview, Vincent Alvarez, President of the city’s Central Labor Council, when asked if the New York’s labor movement needs to go on the offensive now that multiple unions are working without contracts and a major union that maintains a critical energy infrastructure network for the city is locked out, said, “You talk about the labor movement going on the offensive, this was an offensive and aggressive action taken by a monopolistic company. They can afford to settle the contract today if they want.”
He added, “As for the rest of the labor movement in the city, this is a good moment for all of us to stick together and realize that fundamentally the landscape has changed in a way that is working against all workers, both public and private sectors.”
Whether or not the city’s union movement should refrain from saying that New York is not Wisconsin, Alvarez said, “There are some entities in our city and state that feel they might want to push and challenge the labor unions in ways they haven’t done before because of actions taken in other places like Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. Because of the times and circumstances we live in, entities like Con Ed feel they can lock out their workers and get away with it. But we in the labor movement, from all sectors, I’ve seen tremendous solidarity shown during this dispute and I believe strongly that these workers will prevail in the end.” firstname.lastname@example.org