|July 10 picket line in Brooklyn, N.Y., one week after Con Edison locked out 8,500 workers.|
BY SETH GALINSKY
NEW YORK—“It’s a shame, the way they make billions of dollars in profit, then lock us out and bring in contractors from out of state to do our jobs. They pay them as much or more than they pay us,” said Eddy Gomez, 39, one of 8,500 workers locked out by the Con Edison electric utility here July 1. “They’re trying to bust the union.”
More than 500 locked-out members of Utility Workers Union Local 1-2 joined the picket line at Con Edison’s Brooklyn office July 10, whistling, playing drums and chanting. The honks of support from drivers on busy Flatbush Avenue were almost non-stop.
In 1983 Con Ed employed more than 16,000 hourly workers. Today it’s down to more than 8,500 workers and 5,000 supervisors.
The company claims they locked the workers out because union officials refused to agree to Con Edison’s demand that the union give the company seven days notice before going on strike after the current contract expired.
During negotiations Con Edison proposed replacing the fixed pensions with a “cash balance” plan and doubling the cost workers will pay for health insurance, workers say.
“With the fixed pension, I can retire and know how much I’ll be getting,” Fred Scott, 48, told the Militant. “But with Con Ed’s plan, they’re not letting me know. What if I live to 80 or 90?”
In a July 10 press release Con Edison said it had made a new offer that would maintain the pensions for current employees, but give the “cash balance” plan to new hires.
Union spokesperson John Melia told the Militant the union would not agree to a plan that would sacrifice the benefits of new workers.
Workers on the picket line said Con Ed had been training supervisors to do their jobs and started getting in touch with management retirees months ago in preparation for the contract fight.
Since the lockout began, Con Ed has brought in contractors from Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and other states to cross the picket lines, said Gomez.
Many workers were taken by surprise when Con Edison locked them out.
“I’m still in shock,” said Gerardo Giannattasio, 30, who has worked at Con Edison for four years. “I got escorted off the property. As of July 3 they terminated the medical benefits for my family. And they’re even withholding our last week of pay.”
“In hindsight, I should’ve known what they were up to,” said Jared Peterson, 43, with 24 years seniority. He added that several years ago the company doubled the number of supervisors. “I think they were planning for something like this for years.”
The lockout has spurred some union members to learn more about struggles other workers are facing “As soon as we were locked out, I starting surfing the Internet for information on lockouts,” Scott said. “That’s how I found out about the workers locked out by American Crystal in the Midwest for almost a year. It’s happening all across America.”
Metropolis, Ill., Steelworkers back Caterpillar, sugar workers
On the Picket Line
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