Thousands Rally in Union Square to Support Local 1-2
July 18, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
New York’s labor movement flexed its muscles again on Tuesday, July 17 at Union Square to show its support for Local 1-2 members of the Utility Workers Union of America locked out by Con Edison since July 1. Multiple leaders from both public and private sector unions expressed their support and solidarity with the union.
The whole of Union Square from the northwest to the northeast corners were filled with thousands of union members. Signs and banners from the TWU, CWA, UAW, RWDSU and UFT could be seen across the square. And the music booming from the loudspeakers, including solid working-class songs by Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, motivated the crowd before the first speaker.
John Duffy, National Vice President of the UWUA, said “We have to turn up the heat,” but warned the audience to not let the energy and enthusiasm fizzle out after the rally.
At a 4:00 pm presser on the northwest corner of Union Square, Duffy stressed that the only roadblock to getting a new contract is “all on Con Edison. They want to set the tone for every employer in this city and country and we can’t let that happen. We will fight tooth and nail not just for our members, but for the entire middle-class.”
Joining Duffy were different politicians including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Comptroller John Liu and Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. Scott Sommer, an executive member of the Working Families Party, displayed a binder clip of petitions containing 10,000 online signatures from the working public demanding that Con Edison end the lockout and sign a new contract with Local 1-2.
Duffy didn’t know the exact number of outside contractors from the South the company is using, but when asked, in addition to applying political and legislative pressure, can the union stop the scabs from doing Local 1-2’s work, he said, “It’s difficult. The city is spending a lot of money on security and Con Edison is benefitting from that. It makes it near impossible to stop the scabs because the police pen us in with barricades.”
He added, “Con Edison wants to set a precedent, and it’ll be open season for all working people.”
When asked should the union set a precedent, Duffy responded, “To us, it’s not about precedent-setting. It’s about economic justice. They’re trying to set precedent and make a point. We’re not trying to make any point. We’re trying to let our members make a living, that’s all we’re trying to do.”
Duffy noted a couple of successes so far in the three week struggle. For example, operating engineers, building and construction trade members, teamsters and machinists have refused to cross Local 1-2 picket lines to do the work they typically do, such as operating cranes unloading transformers and truck maintenance.
Duffy also said that the union will reach out to whomever, wherever to get solidarity for Local 1-2 picket lines, as the company attempts to ship via barge a transformer to a Brooklyn substation.
Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, one of the multiple union leaders on stage, told the crowd that Con Edison called him to ask if his members would be interested in working for the company, but “I told them no.”
According to Duffy, the union wants to pursue legislation that caps the pay of CEOs and make them subject to the same rules as government agencies when Freedom of Information Act requests are made.
However, the company released on the day of the rally a 62-page response to the union’s petitioning of the Public Service Commission to end the lockout, claiming that the union’s petition is “misleading, factually inaccurate, has no basis in law and should be denied in its entirety.”
The company also insists in its response (www.coned.com/documents/Case_12M0306.pdf) that the “offer to bring employees back to work if the union leadership agrees to give 72-hour strike notice remains open.” But the union has refused that agreement, because it would forfeit its main bargaining chip in negotiations. firstname.lastname@example.org