By MARTY GOODMAN
NEW YORK—On July 1, Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) of New York City, one of the nation’s top energy providers, cut off contract negotiations by locking out 8500 members of the Utility Workers United of America Local 1-2 (UWUA). The lockout was not a strike, but a one-sided refusal by Con Ed bosses to bargain.
The brutal strategy of Con Ed brought widespread comparison to the successful Tea Party attacks on the collective bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin. It brought labor toe to toe with a new stage in the attacks on working people by the 1%. The last time the UWUA struck Con Ed was in 1983.
Con Ed is a semi-public entity that was “deregulated” in 1998. On its board are politically well-connected millionaires. Con Ed contributed $250,000 to the “Committee to Save New York,” which was set up at the urging of Mario Cuomo, now New York’s governor.
A tentative agreement was announced on July 26 in advance of a powerful rainstorm. Workers returned that day to stop “black outs.” The storm was used by Con Ed and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (Dem.), who has successfully backed pension reductions for new state workers, to ram through givebacks on the union.
The union had refused to buckle to initial Con Ed demands, which included a 24% per member rise in the cost of health care, and elimination of the pension plan—to be replaced by a 401K pension plan for new workers based on the stock market. The concessions were to be “offset” by a 10.5% wage raise over the life of a proposed four-year contract . Con Ed demands included requiring a seven-day notice of a strike by the UWUA, a move that would cripple any strike.
Upon locking out workers, Con Ed ended health-care benefits. This was as raw as the union-busting efforts by Tea Party Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who beat back collective bargaining rights for public workers. New York is a union town!
Democratic Party politicians, pretending support for workers, offered bland statements urging both sides to “go back to the bargaining table.” None demanded a raise or defended pension rights..
Con Ed work was being performed by 5000 supervisors, with hundreds of out-of-town scabs called in. Con Ed maintained that work could safely be performed by supervision, but undertook to hire scabs. The UWUA slammed the bosses’ hypocrisy.
Con Ed bloodsuckers, like CEO Kevin Burke, are rolling in dough. Con Ed profits were $1 billion last year. Burke’s salary was $1.1 million in 2010, a 30% raise, plus $9.2 million in benefits and stock options. Con Ed made $5.9 billion since 2008, but none of it was taxed; in fact, it got a $74 million refund in the last three years. Con Ed’s profits were up 27% this year until June 30.
The UWUA set up 24-hour pickets at Con Ed on 14th St., near Union Square in Manhattan. The noisy pickets, which included members of other unions, ranged in size from several hundred to much smaller numbers toward the end. Occupy Wall Street Labor Alliance helped arrange a meeting with union leaders to form a citywide solidarity committee, although with little initial success.
There were two citywide labor solidarity rallies, which attracted some 2000-3000 supporters, the first in many years for an ongoing struggle. Yet, the turnout was light in a city with hundreds of thousands of union members. Most union leaders only mobilized token contingents. At the end of July, the UWUA, with Occupy Wall Street help, stepped-up efforts to stop scabs, with some success. At a UWUA rally, UWUA Local 1-2 President Harry Farrell promised the cheering workers, “I’m not giving up anything.”
Members were sent a contract “summary, ”not the actual contract, to be voted on. The tentative four-year contract contained about 11% in raises with compounding. It also contained a “ratification bonus” and a “lump sum,” an old bosses’ trick, which appears like a raise but likely will not add to the workers’ actual base pay in future negotiations. Also, health benefit costs for the workers will significantly rise, but not as much as bosses wished.
The giveback item with perhaps the most impact states that new workers would not receive the old pension benefits, but a new 401K plan tied to the unstable stock market. Many thousands of workers lost massive amounts of pension funds as a result of the 2008 Wall Street crisis. The new pension agreement would even more divide the union into two classes, destroying unity and fostering resentment from new workers—to the delight of Con Ed bosses.
As of this writing, the members had not yet voted on the deal. Socialists say, “No to all givebacks! No to inferior pensions for new workers! No to the divide-and-conquer tactics of the bosses! Vote the contract down!