After locking out 8,000 union workers in a contract dispute, Con Ed is assuring New Yorkers it can deliver power without disruption during these scorching summer days. The utility is currently relying on 5,000 managers and and some retired supervisors who have been persuaded to come back and fill in for the locked-out workers. But with temperatures in the mid-90s, demand for power is acute, and the union warns that if there's any serious problems, the managers won't be able to handle it.
"They have placed their customers and the public at great peril," union spokesman John Melia tells the Daily News. "These men and women don’t have the knowledge or the expertise or the capability to keep the system operating long term. These guys don’t know how to go down into flaming manholes." Not to be outdone, union president Harry Farrell told the Times, "What they said last night to the people of New York was, ‘Drop dead.' They’re asking retired supervisors to climb poles and work in manholes and stuff — I just don’t see it happening." For now, Con Ed is suspending meter reading and shutting walk-in centers.
Con Ed workers haven't gone on strike since the summer of 1983; at that time there were 16,500 members working at the utility, and the Times reports that the strike lasted nine weeks, with one major incident affecting service. The two sides are currently at odds over pension benefits. Workers' current contract has expired, and while workers were willing to continue working without a contract during negotiations, Con Ed officials had demanded an agreement from the union not to strike without seven days' notice.
The union rejected that, and negotiations broke down around 1:30 a.m. Sunday. Throughout yesterday there were a number of small-scale power outages, but Con Ed's spokesman says there were below average for a typical day in July. In Queens, about 650 households in Hollis lost power for most of the day, and the News reports that Con Ed managers were on the scene at a darkened a block of Wilson Avenue in the Bronx, where someone letting off firecrackers hit a power line. “This is dangerous work," Melia warns. "It kills people. We lose one or two men a year. The [management retirees] can’t deal with a transformer fire on top of a pole."