Con Ed and union connect on four-year agreement

Members of Local 1-2 at a labor solidarity rally in Union Square on July 17. Photo by Liza Béar

BY Liza Béar  |  Bringing their highly charged labor dispute to a conclusion, on Wednesday, members of Local 1-2 Utility Workers Union of America voted to approve a new collective bargaining agreement with Con Edison.

“After the largest lockout of union members in U.S. history, the brothers and sisters of Local 1-2 voted by a margin of 93 percent to accept a new four-year agreement with Con Edison,” Harry Farrell, president of Local 1-2, said in a statement.

“While no contract is perfect, it was our recommendation that this agreement be approved by the membership,” Farrell said. “In its totality it is clear that we won some significant advantages at the bargaining table.”

The contract addresses union members’ concerns about changes to their pension benefits plan. In addition, if Con Ed replaces union employees, it now must replace every three of four of these jobs with union workers, rather than outside contractors. Also, an outside independent contractor must now be used to assess whether outside contractors are necessary for jobs, or if they can and should be performed by union members.

On Thurs., July 26, the stalemate in which Con Ed labor-management talks had been mired since April was suddenly broken, ending a 26-day lockout of 8,500 employees.

The lockout — not a strike — had been initiated with no advance notice on July 1 by Con Ed when the union’s previous four-year contract expired. The 8,500 front-line workers were replaced with 5,000 managers, some of whom had to work as much as 72 hours a week.

With the threat of a ferocious storm hitting New York City and wreaking havoc to the power grid, Governor Cuomo finally intervened. Summoning the two sides to his Manhattan office at 633 Third Ave. he reportedly kept them there until they reached a deal.

“We would like to thank Governor Andrew Cuomo for his support and guidance in helping Con Edison and the leadership of UWUA Local 1-2 reach a tentative agreement that is fair and equitable for our employees and customers,” Allan Drury, a Con Ed spokesperson, said at the time in an e-mailed statement after negotiations ended.

“It’s a political gain for Cuomo if he runs for re-election as governor,” said Frankie, a shop steward in the utility’s electrical department.

The main sticking points in the talks were pensions and health benefits.

“All in all, it is a fair deal,” said Gary Magliari, a design engineer and shop steward. “We had to make some concessions with increases in medical and prescription contributions. ‘The Perfect Storm’ gave the union bargaining leverage. It gave the governor a chance to redeem himself. And it gave the company some concessions it wanted, along with bringing back its workforce in time to support any damage caused by the heavy winds.”

While the agreement offers wage increases of 10.5 percent over four years, this is offset by substantial increases in medical co-pays.

However, a major new gain for the union is that current members will keep their existing fixed pension plan, which allows them to retire at age 55 with 48 percent average of their last four years’ pay until at least 2037; Con Ed is not allowed to try to renegotiate this clause every four years at contract time.

“Our total C.B.A. [collective bargaining agreement] is the size of a paperback novel,” said John Melia, spokesperson for Local 1-2.