Praise for Con Edison and the Utility Workers Union

Ross Sandler

The Consolidated Edison lockout began on July 1, 2012. Despite summer heat and record electric demand, Con Edison’s supervisors and auxiliaries kept the City functioning. Computers operated, elevators carried people up and down, lights stayed on, and offices remained cool. Compared to the impact of the three-day transit strike of 2005, the City functioned without a hitch. Both management and the union deserve credit. Striking is one thing; stopping the flow of electricity, gas and steam to New York City is quite another.

Pension costs were behind the lockout. Pension expenses for Con Edison have risen tenfold. In 2006 pension costs were $76 million; in 2012 pension costs rose to $741 million. Con Edison needed the Utility Workers Union, Local 1-2, to accept a new pension plan for future new hires. Con Edison had already switched its managers to the new pension plan. Given the fierce emotions over pensions, Con Edison had to plan for a strike. The risk for Con Edison was fumbling a sudden handoff from 8,000 regular workers to 5,000 managers and auxiliary workers who would be deployed on short notice.

Con Edison CEO Kevin Burke and President Craig Ivey led the preparation that kept the lights on. Management did not want a lockout or a strike, but were prepared for that contingency. They did not fumble the handoff. Harry Farrell, President of Utility Workers Union, Local 1-2, deserves credit for his experienced leadership of a highly professional union and for negotiating a contract fair to his members and to the rate payers.

Everyone deserves credit for ending the strike with little visible animosity. Lockouts end, and when they do, the locked out workers return to work with the same supervisors and office workers who replaced them during the lockout. Success for Con Edison was in prevailing through the 26 days, and also in moving on after the settlement. The hand-back to the union employees after the settlement was as much of an achievement as continuation of service during the lockout.

-Ross Sandler

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