|Workers locked out by Con Edison in New York at expanded picket line July 24 after taking part with other fighting workers, unions, and community groups at rally in Manhattan.|
Originally called by a coalition of community and religious groups and labor unions to back “low wage workers,” the action was bolstered by the participation of some 700 members of Utility Workers Union Local 1-2, who marched from the Con Edison headquarters a few blocks away.
Con Edison, which made more than $1 billion in profits last year, locked out the workers July 1 in the midst of negotiations for a new contract. The company is demanding a steep slash in pensions for new hires and a big increase in the cost of health insurance.
A contingent of Cablevision workers from Brooklyn, who won a union recognition election in January and are now negotiating for a contract, also marched.
“We have to back each other’s struggles,” said Cablevision worker Lawrence Hendrickson. “I’m here to back the low wage workers and the Con Ed workers.”
Workers who are trying to organize a union at several car washes in the area also joined the protest.
“The bosses pay me $4 an hour for 10- to 11-hour days, with no overtime pay,” said one worker from Central Islip, who asked that his name not be used since the owner of the car wash does not yet know he is involved in the fight for better wages and conditions. “They say if we don’t like it, take a hike.”
Hotel and Motel union workers, subway and bus workers from the Transport Workers Union, Communications Workers from Verizon, airport workers, as well as several hundred organized by Make the Road, an immigrant rights group, were among the participants in the action.
After the rally more than 1,000 people marched back to Con Edison’s headquarters and joined an expanded picket line that lasted several hours.
“The company has been planning this lockout for the last four years, since we signed the last contract,” Gjorgi Kukuvikov, a high voltage lineman, told the Militant. “They brought in college kids and made them ‘gold associates,’ they make up a big part of the 5,000 supervisors” who are taking the place of the locked-out workers.
Con Edison spokesperson Allan Drury said the company is negotiating “in good faith” and that “workers could return to their jobs immediately if their leadership would agree to provide us with adequate notice of a strike.”
A statement on the Utility Workers website says, however, that it was “clear to Con Edison that Local 1-2 was not going to strike” and that the company locked out the workers “with no advance notice whatsoever” after the strike deadline had passed.
Con Edison boasts on its website that it sold near record amounts of electricity on July 17 and 18. But many customers are complaining that they are being overcharged because the meter readers are locked out. The readings will resume, Drury told the Militant via email, “once the work stoppage ends.”
Union officials have criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who they backed in the last election, for taking a hands-off approach to the lockout. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and City Comptroller John Liu have both called on Con Edison to end the lockout.
“They’re not going to break us down,” said locked-out worker Samantha Turner. “We’re still here and we’ll be here.”
“It’s all about corporate greed,” said Dennis Schuette, 52, who has worked at Con Edison for nine years. “We’ve got to stay united and keep on marching.”
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