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Labor Rally In Support of Con Ed Lockout Draws Thousands From Other Unions
Con Ed Engages in Surface Bargaining; Union Square Labor Rally Draws Thousands
By Liza Béar
NEW YORK, JULY 19. 2012--It’s been a busy week for the locked out Con Ed workers, with 24/7 rotating protests at the 4 Irving Place picket line and uptown in front of CEO Kevin Burke’s 455 East 86th Manhattan residence, culminating in a formidable and vociferous show of support from several thousand members of at least a dozen other unions in a solidarity labor rally at Union Square.
Creative handmade cardboard signs now proliferate in addition to the glossy official Union red printed mainstays.
According to Gary Magliari, a UWUA Local 1-2 shop steward interviewed at the picket line, the lock out was due not to failed negotiations, as Con Ed claims, but was a deliberate act, a strategic move that was planned years in advance of the union's contract running out on July 1. Stripping away union benefits, says Magliari, is part of Con Ed's move towards needed consolidation prior to selling the company, to make it more attractive to a buyer without a freighted 4-year union contract. http://youtu.be/1jptOdNQZ0c
“What is going in their meetings is an endless barrage of pie charts, statistics and power point presentations that describe Con Edison’s new world order…” said Magliari quoting a source close to the talks. ” It is absolutely surreal.”
On Saturday July 14 at 6:30pm Local 1-2 texted an announcement from its president Harry Farrell that medical benefits had been reinstated retroactively for all 8500 locked out Con Ed employees. This is their only concession so far.
But pressure to end the lock-out , believed by the union to be the largest in US history, and to provide a fair contract is mounting both from the labor movement and public officials.
On Tuesday union members and their supporters marched north from the picket line to 17th Street before turning west to the North Plaza of Union Square, a historic site for labor rallies. Occupy signs and banners were very much in evidence, as were many familiar faces from Zuccotti park actions over the past months. And the language of corporate greed, income inequality and the 99% made familiar by the Occupy movement pervaded almost every speech from union officials.
Among the unions present at Tuesday’s rally were the Communication Workers of America, Eftra, Sag, the Service Employees International Union, the Transit Workers Union, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, the United Federation of Teachers, the Steamfitters Union, the United Auto Workers, as well as Occupy Wall Street.
“The most impressive show of strength I've seen from organized labor in a long time,” said Magliari about the rally. ”The lockout has awakened a sleeping giant!”
Also on stage were local city and state officials including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Comptroller John Liu and Queens Councilman James Sanders, whose recent letter to CEO Burke accuses Con Ed of “reckless and irresponsible actions” and “refusal to negotiate in good faith with Local 1-2”.
Mike Langford, AFL-CIO president led the roster of rousing speeches punctuated by repeated chants of “We Are One.”
"There is an ill wind blowing across our country, and that wind reeks of the stench of corporate greed and the political expediency that allows corporate greed…” fired off Chris Shelton, CWA vice president whose Verizon workers are still without a contract. “What they're trying to do to my members at the bargaining table is much bigger than trying to steal your wages and your benefits, [they’re] stealing your democracy," http://youtu.be/IoKz5tt_uu0
The mood was one of unity and the emphasis on the place of New York in the labor movement as a union town.
“We’ve been sitting at that table since April 12,” said Local 1-2 president Harry Farrell, addressing the crowds at the Union Square rally, “and since then nothing has changed. The only thing that they do is extend the period of time between breaks [sessions]. They don’t want to negotiate this contract.”
The union also filed a complaint to the Public Service Commission alleging, inter alias, that Con Edison was failing to make regular inspections to manholes and transformers thus creating safety hazards.
As John Melia Local 1-2 spokesman argued in an emailed statement, Con Ed’s answer to the PSC filing received yesterday, was self-contradictory in that they claimed that they both needed the locked-out utility workers to maintain safety standards and that they could manage without them.
Negotiations resumed on Wednesday , the day after the rally but there’s still “Absolutely no progress in the talks,” according to Melia , reached at press time as thunder roared and hailstones pounded the window panes of buildings in the East Village. As extreme weather continues Con Edison may well be put to the test.