Union, Con Ed End Talks, Agree to Meet Friday

It was a long day for New York utility Consolidated Edison and the union representing its employees, as the two sides engaged in talks until late into the night. It was the first time the two sides have talked since Sunday, when the contract expired and workers were locked out.

Talks broke off around 10 p.m. Thursday night with union spokesman John Melia saying both sides would resume negotiations at 9 a.m. on Friday.

He likened Thursday's talks to a reality television show. “It’s like Survivor,” Melia quipped.

Meanwhile, a noisy union protest occurred earlier in the day near Union Square in Manhattan. The company has had managers doing workers jobs in the field.

The utility announced 5 percent voltage reductions in some Brooklyn neighborhoods. It said crews were making repairs despite the heat wave and that managers ready to respond in case of blackouts.

"Our immediate priority is getting our employees back to work, while we continue to work on the new contract for them that's fair and equitable, and also with our customers in mind, because they pay the bills at the end of the month and we need to be very cost conscious for them," Con Ed spokesman Michael Clendenin said.

Con Ed cut workers’ health insurance soon after the lock out, according to Utility Workers Local 1-2 spokesman Melia. He said the union attorneys are studying whether the action is illegal.

“We were still at the negotiating table in the month of July and, from our understanding from how the health insurance works, that would have provided it for another month,” Melia explained.

But Con Ed said the union decided not to take a two week contract extension that the company offered over the weekend. Clendenin said that would have ensured workers health insurance was uninterrupted at least for two more weeks, but not now.

“The health coverage will be picked up by COBRA, for those members who elect to sign up for it, and that will be mailed to their homes from our insurance provider,” Clendenin said.

There are many sticking points in the negotiations, especially over worker's pensions. The company said it still offers pensions to union workers, but the union contends that the company cut the pension plan.

“Many of the things we’ve heard about pensions being taken away, have been false,” Con Ed’s Clendenin said, though he refused to get into details about what exactly Con Ed is asking workers to accept in the new contract. "Those details are better left to the bargaining table.”

Both sides said federal mediators will be at the bargaining table when they meet at noon. The location of the talks was not disclosed.

Annmarie Fertoli and Associated Press contributed reporting.