Con Edison Says Operations Are Running Safely

Local 1-2's Harry Farrell testifies at Assembly hearingJuly 26, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
The New York State Assembly held a hearing on July 25 to examine procedures established by Con Edison to ensure that safe and reliable service are being provided to city and state customers and businesses as the company’s unionized Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America workforce remains locked out.

The first to speak was John Miksad, a senior VP of Electric Operations for Con Ed. He was questioned by three Assembly chairs, Keith Wright, Kevin Cahill and James F. Brennan, and several other Assembly members.

In his testimony, Miksad defended Con Ed’s safety record thus far by saying that it has responded about the same or better to “critical incidents” such as fires, power outages and gas leaks.

John Miksad of Con EdisonFor example, he noted that since July 1, the company responded to 764 power outages affecting about 50,000 people. “The average time to restore power was 2.5 hours. In 2011, during the same period in July, the average was 4.94 hours and in the same period for 2010 it was 3.68 hours.”

Feeder cables that connect Con Ed’s energy system run throughout the city and the boroughs. Miksad noted the company has responded to 209 feeder failures since July 1.

“The average restoration time is 14.5 hours. In 2011 during the same period, it was 19.2 hours and in 2010, it was 20.2 hours. Again, we’ve performed as well, if not better, in this critical area of our operation.”

With gas leaks, Miksad said the company is at the highest ever level in 30 minute response time to gas leak calls. “Ninety-one percent of all gas leak calls are coming in under 30 minutes. From January to July of this year, it was 87.5 percent.”

“This is the safest Con Edison has ever been. We are committed to safety, regardless of who’s doing the work—the union, management or contractors,” noted Miksad.  
While Miksad says that the company is meeting or beating safety expectations and regulations, he did acknowledge that some of Con Ed’s operations have taken a back seat, such as meter reading, customer service in the call centers and back office operations as the company has directed its whole management workforce to the field to deal with the priorities of the steam, electrical and gas operations.

But Assembly member Cahill took Miksad to task on whether the current workforce is properly trained, especially as the company has hired over 700 out-of-state contractors to do the work of Local 1-2 members.

“Out of the 5,000 management personnel, how many have had the necessary field training to do the work?”

Miksad responded that there are 1,000 first-line supervisors who came up through the ranks and have received the training that Local 1-2 members receive. In his opening testimony, Miksad noted there is “another 1,500 support staff working with the supervisors, 1,200 employees working within their home organizations and nearly 700 contractors working in the field.”

Cahill expressed concern that, given that recent retirees are also working in the field, about whether the current workforce is able to perform jobs such as cable splicing. According to Miksad, the company is providing three-day refresher courses, which alarmed Cahill.

“How can you have the same level of confidence they’re doing a job that ensures the safety of the system?”

Miksad replied that “the proof is in the pudding. As I cited earlier, we’ve been doing this safely, reliably and efficiently since July 1.”

Also of concern to Cahill is the long working hours the current workforce is undergoing, such as 12-hour days, six or seven days a week, not including the additional time required for emergency repair work.

“If there’s an emergency, do people have to work beyond 12 hours,” asked Cahill.

“It’s possible,” replied Miksad.

“Has it happened with any regularity during emergencies?”

“I imagine it has,” said Miksad.

Cahill then said, “Let’s be very clear about what we’re putting these people through while Con Ed carries out its lockout. My next question is, ‘How long can these people be expected to hold out working 12 hour days, six days a week?’”

Miksad said morale is high and resolve is strong among the workforce, drawing jeers from Local 1-2 members in the audience.

Another issued discussed at the hearing is Con Edison’s claim that it needs a 72-hour strike notice from the union leadership. Cahill asked Miksad if the 72-hour strike notice was negotiated in the previous contract.

“I don’t believe so.”

“If you did, you wouldn’t have had to ask the union to do it because it’d be a condition of the contract. If it was so important, why wasn’t it negotiated? Contracts are about give and take, but here you’re asking for 72 hours’ notice with nothing in return,” said Cahill.

During the hearing Miksad repeated on several occasions that “all this could end right now if the union leadership would agree to a 72-hour strike notice.”

He told Cahill that “We’re not asking the union leadership to give this to us, we’re asking them to give it to the public and our customers.”

Miksad stressed that it’s important for the company to be given notice in the event of a strike as it would need time to make preparations for a “smooth transition.” He compared Con Ed’s dilemma without a strike notice to that of an airline crew walking out of the cockpit when the airplane is in midflight.

When Miksad said that the company established a contingency plan a year ago in anticipation of the July 1 contract expiration, Assembly Member Michael Benedetto said, “So you were planning for this so you could take the initiative?”

“No,” said Miksad.

Miksad shed some light on the company’s thinking as July 1 approached.

“We thought there’d be three possible outcomes. The most likely was a settlement. The next most likely result was an extension, followed by a settlement. And finally, we thought the most likely possibility was a strike. We didn’t anticipate a lockout,” causing Local 1-2 members to jeer Miksad again.

Assembly member Linda Rosenthal said, “I urge you to forego the 72-hour condition and get back to seriously negotiate so these men and women can go back doing what they do best for this city.”

Assembly member Wright then reminded the panel that any questions or comments should be focused on Con Edison’s current safety procedures.

After Miksad spoke, Harry Farrell, Local 1-2’s President, said that Miksad’s testimony was false and that the current workforce is basically bandaging the network.

“The scabs the company is bringing in from around the country don’t know how to work on our system.”

He added, “What worries me more than anything is that we have about 100,000 minefields in the city—every manhole cover and sidewalk grates you walk over is a potential bomb.”   


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