Labor Negotiations Fail at Con Ed

7:17 a.m. | Updated Contract negotiations that stretched early into Sunday morning between Consolidated Edison and its largest union have come to an abrupt halt, with the utility saying that 5,000 of its supervisors would step in to maintain service during the dispute.

The union said its 8,500 Con Ed members had been locked out.

“Con Ed locked out members at 2 a.m.,” said John Melia, a spokesman for Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America.

A collective bargaining agreement between the company and the union expired at midnight on Saturday. At that point, Mr. Melia said, the union expressed a willingness to continue negotiations and work while a new contract was discussed.

“The union requested dates to resume negotiations from Con Ed, and Con Ed informed the union negotiators shortly before 1:30 this morning that they had decided to lock out the members of 1-2,” Mr. Melia said.

Con Ed said that it put supervisors into the maintenance jobs only after the union turned down its latest offer.

The union rejected an offer, the utility said in a statement, to continue negotiating if both sides agreed to provide seven days “notice of a strike or work stoppage.”

“Without a contract and the assurance that the union leadership would not call a strike without notice,” the utility said, Con Ed “would not have been able to assure customers of reliable service.”

The disagreement over a new contract centers on the kind of pension plan sought by the company. The workers currently have a traditional plan, which pays a defined monthly benefit upon retirement. The company wants to shift to what is known as a cash balance plan, which tends to yield lower benefits to older workers. Managers hired over the last 10 years or so have a cash balance plan.

The union has suggested that the utility might not be able to keep electricity flowing to its 3.2 million customers in New York City and Westchester County without its members.

Asked whether there was any indication from the company’s part about when negotiations would resume, Mr. Melia said, “None whatsoever. They stood up and kicked us out.”

Con Ed said that its offer to extend the current contract while negotiations continued remained on the table.

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Con Ed Negotiations Continue Past Deadline

Contract negotiations between Consolidated Edison and its biggest union carried on past a midnight deadline on Saturday, amid threats of a strike that union leaders say could disrupt electricity flows to the city.

The two sides remained locked behind closed doors in the early hours on Sunday, said John Melia, a spokesman for the union, Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America. Mr. Melia said the sides could agree to extend negotiations if progress had been made, but said he could offer no prognosis on the outcome of the talks.

The union has threatened to walk off the job over company proposals to reduce pension benefits. Some 8,500 Con Edison workers belong to the union, the company’s largest.

The disagreement centers on the kind of pension plan that the company wants. The workers now have a traditional plan that pays a defined monthly benefit upon retirement. The company proposes to replace that with what is known as a cash balance plan, which tends to yield lower benefits to older workers. Managers hired over the last 10 years or so have a cash balance plan.

Michael Clendenin, a Con Edison spokesman, said on Saturday afternoon that the negotiations, at a Westchester hotel, were continuing: “They have been meeting all day. They are still talking. We are exchanging proposals.”

The union has suggested that the utility might not be able to keep electricity flowing to air-conditioners and lights for its 3.2 million customers in New York City and Westchester County without its members. Con Ed officials, however, said that the utility had prepared its managers to step in and operate the power grid and make repairs.

If a walkout did occur, Mr. Clendenin said, the company could deploy about 5,000 managers, about half of whom have some experience working in the field. In the interim, he said, some construction projects would be postponed and meter-reading might be curtailed.

Another Con Ed spokesman, Bob McGee, pointed out that there was less usage of power over a weekend because people tend to go away, and that the demand would drop this week because of the Fourth of July holiday.

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