June 13, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
Negotiations between Con Edison and the Utility Workers Union of America, Local 1-2, continue but the contract expires on June 30. The Local held a rally at Union Square on Tuesday, June 12 to motivate its members and prepare them for a possible strike. The union says that the company is demanding extreme concessions, while the CEO, Kevin Burke, received total compensation of almost $11 million in 2011, according to Forbes.com.
In an interview, Local 1-2’s President, Harry Farrell, said, “The last thing I want to do is call a strike.” He explained that a strike would not only affect the 8,500 member local directly, but their families as well, as many of them depend on the medical plan coverage.
“Medical coverage is cancelled when there’s a strike. We have members who are receiving care for cancer and diabetes and members’ wives expecting an addition to the family. The company knows the union can’t pay for that medical coverage, and so there’s an enormous amount of pressure on me to make that decision,” said Farrell.
But the company just awarded its board of directors a 20 percent increase, he noted. “We can’t allow a corporation that made $3.2 billion dollars last year tell us they can’t afford the benefits we’re asking. If I have to pull that trigger, I will,” Farrell said.
Farrell strongly believes that the company wants a labor dispute as the company wants concessions on all the pillars of a union contract (pension, medical, sick time and wages) more aggressively than ever before.
The union has enjoyed a defined pension benefit plan, but the company wants to eliminate it and replace it with a cash balance pension plan (similar to a 401k plan) for new and current members.
Farrell explained that members currently receive, if they have 30 years of service by 55 years of age, a pension benefit equaled to 48 percent of the average of their last four years of service.
Because of the dangerous work Local 1-2 members perform, such as underground and overhead troubleshooting and cable splicing, the medical coverage and pension benefit is paramount.
But Con Edison also wants to eliminate the disability pension plan, which pays a member unable to work due to injury his or her full pension at 50 years of age with at least 20 years of service.
“Con Edison says it can no longer pay the benefit cost of our retirees. We’re in a battle for our lives,” noted Farrell.
When members do get injured, there’s no guarantee that they’ll start receiving compensation immediately, as the company employs Sedgwick, a claims management services company, to contest members’ claims.
“If a member gets any kind of lung disease due to asbestos exposure on the job and he or she goes to the compensation board to plead their case, Sedgwick fights them every inch…for claims as low as $100 per week,” said Farrell.
Farrell is no stranger to work-related injury. He was once thrown 15 feet into the air working near a manhole, which resulted in permanent hearing loss and required seven weeks of recovery before going back to work.
Joining Farrell at Union Square were Vincent Alvarez and Mario Cilento, who each expressed their solidarity with the Con Edison workers. The union’s national president, Michael Langford, said in an interview that Local 1-2’s struggle is very important, as the local is the largest in the 50,000-member national.
“The agenda that’s been created by the extreme right-wing to literally end collective bargaining and curtail or eliminate pensions and health care benefits is going to take rallies like today to stand up to corporate greed,” said Langford. email@example.com