May 21, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – A new bill introduced in the State Assembly could soon have a big impact on the lives of underpaid contract security guards and cleaners working for utility giant Con Edison. (Watch Video)
Assemblyman Karim Kamara's measure now winding its way through Albany's legislative machinery, would revive a 2010 bid to include Con Edison and other utilities in prevailing wage law. Former Governor David Paterson killed the original bill before exiting office.
Some contracted security guards and cleaners now make only $8.50 and hour, without any real benefits. The starting pay rate for a security guards under prevailing wage law is $12.85 an hour.
"You're working at a level where you're just making ends meet," Con Ed security guard Patrick Whitehead told LaborPress in front of the company's 4 Irving Place offices on Monday. "There's no growth. You can't move up. You can't do other things like maybe going back to school. You're stuck."
Whitehead earns just $9.50 an hour at Con Edison's sensitive East River Station. He put in extra long hours during Hurricane Sandy, but never received overtime pay.
Con Edison's top executives, meanwhile, are raking in millions of dollars. Following Hurricane Sandy, the utility even tried to award them over $600,000 in bonuses for their "exemplary" work during the disaster. Only calls for a state investigation forced the execs to rethink the wisdom of accepting the cash.
"It's fine and dandy for Con Edison CEO Kevin Burke to put extra bonuses in his pockets rather than looking at the workers who work for him day in and day out," UWUA Vice-President Jim Slevin said. "This is a public utility, and they should be serving the public – not serving themselves."
Assemblyman Kamara said that a company that was prepared to give out almost a million dollars in bonuses after a natural disaster should do what's right for low-wage workers.
"Those workers should be entitled to the wages under the state law," the Assemblyman said.
Con Edison locked out about 8,500 unionized workers for more than a month last summer in a bitter dispute that sought steep givebacks and other concessions from employees.
"These workers are out there every day working their tails off and they deserve the protection of New York prevailing wage law," New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez said.
According to Whitehead, the low pay and lack of meaningful benefits that he and his fellow co-workers must contend, runs counter to their desire to do the best job possible.
"You want to do good work, and you want to go above and beyond," Whitehead said. "But when you're working at a place where you know that if you go above and beyond and you break your back there's no room to grow. I may be crazy, but who wants to go above and beyond and not get anywhere?
Kyle Bragg, 32BJ secretary-treasurer, warned that the startling income disparity between Con Ed executives and security guards and cleaners, as well as the lack of opportunity that Whitehead describes, creates instability in the workforce – and that in turn could prove detrimental to vital sites that must be secure.
"If I was only making $8.50 an hour, I'm looking for the job that's going to pay me more," the 32BJ secretary-treasurer said. "You would think that a company like Con Ed would want stability in its workforce – especially security. Con Ed should look at that very carefully and say, 'Do we want to secure our facilities? Do we want a stable workforce?' If you do, then you pay people more. And this bill will do that."
The current state legislative session runs through the third week in June. Both Assemblyman Kamara and State Senator Diane Savino are spearheading the effort to get the new prevailing wage law passed.
"We need to do everything possible to help individuals that help our city," Assemblyman Kamara said. "We think of Con Edison as a private company, but it's a monopoly. So, they have to do what's right for the public."
Bragg said that Con Ed's contracted security guards and cleaners "continue to suffer," and vowed that labor will "fight with all its might" to get the assemblyman's prevailing wage bill passed before the current legislative session expires.