Feds to join NYC power co-union talks

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 02, 2012 5:20 PM
Feds to join NYC power co-union talks

By Steve James

(Reuters) - New York City utility Consolidated Edison said on Monday it will meet with locked-out union workers and federal mediators to try to settle a contract stalemate that has raised the specter of major power cuts in America's biggest city during a heat wave.

A ConEd spokesman said the meeting with the Utilities Workers Union of America (UWUA), was set for Thursday. The meeting would also include federal negotiators, spokesman Mike Clendenon said.

However, John Melia, a spokesman for the union, said that while federal officials would be attend the talks, he could not characterize them as a resumption of negotiations

The two sides broke off talks in the early hours of Sunday after a union strike deadline expired.

The announcement that the two sides would sit down again came after the union called for federal negotiators to assist in the talks and as a series of small power outages in parts of New York City raised fears of bigger blackouts if the system is strained by increased demand during a heat wave.

"We've had a few scattered outages, but that is normal even when it is not hot," said Clendenon, noting there were small power disruptions in the Bronx and Queens boroughs as well as a manhole fire in Brooklyn.

The company has trained 5,000 managers to respond to emergencies in place of the 8,500 unionized workers who were locked out when contract talks stalled at midnight Saturday.

Clendenon said that in addition to managers handling outages, manhole fires or downed trees, Con Ed was also planning to hire retirees on an hourly basis for emergencies.

Much of the eastern half of the United States was baking in a heat wave for a fourth day on Monday, with temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius). More than 3 million households were without power from Illinois to Virginia, and forecasters said it would heat up later this week in the New York area, putting more strain on the city's electric grid.

Representatives of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service had been observing the negotiations already.

The company had sought a two-week extension of the talks, which the union declined, saying it would prevent them from using the strike option. "We are ready to negotiate anywhere, anytime," said Melia.

A major sticking point in the negotiations is Con Ed's move to phase out defined pensions for union workers, as well as disagreement over wages and healthcare costs.

ConEd's stock rose 53 cents, or 0.85 percent, to $62.72 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting By Steve James; Editing by John Picinich and Dan Grebler)