Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Con Ed talks resume, but situation's 'grim'

The utility company's push to eliminate defined-benefit pensions for new employees is the biggest sticking point, according to locked-out workers.

By Daniel Massey

Talks resumed Tuesday afternoon between Consolidated Edison and the union representing its 8,500 locked-out workers in an effort to end a 10-day-old labor dispute.

Even as the two sides resumed bargaining for the first time since Saturday, they remained far apart on pensions, health care and wages. A spokesman for Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America called the situation "pretty grim."

The biggest point of contention is that Con Ed wants new hires to shift to a cash-balance retirement plan from a traditional defined-benefit one. The union has said that would create a two-tiered system among workers.

"You can't divide the union," said a Local 1-2 spokesman. Con Ed has said that its retirement plan would still be generous, but that it needs the changes to deal with rising costs.

Meanwhile, the union says that Con Ed has brought in replacement workers from out of state to help supplement a cadre of 5,000 managers that have been doing the jobs of the unionized workforce since the lockout began July 1.

A spokesman for Con Ed said that the company "uses contractors all year round, routinely." He said the company is using more since the lockout began, but could not immediately say how many have been brought in.

Before the negotiations began Tuesday, hundreds of workers picketed outside a Con Ed office on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Protests also continued outside Con Ed headquarters near Union Square.

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