Lockout or Blackout?

Assemblymember Cahill reacts to the Consolidated Edison lockout on Utility Workers Union of America
July 3, 2012
Albany – Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D-Ulster/Dutchess), Chair of the New York State Assembly Energy Committee, comments on the Consolidated Edison union lockout on what is being considered the hottest week of the year.

"The recent actions of Consolidated Edison in locking out unionized employees is a mistake on many levels,” said Assemblymember Cahill. “First, this approach does nothing to further negotiations leading to a satisfactory conclusion of the current impasse. Next, with the unusually warm and unpredictable weather we have had this year, the strain on the grid is already evident. Major failures in nearby states should be a warning that our systems are more susceptible than ever. Finally, a lock out engenders millions of dollars in unnecessary costs, such as unemployment insurance costs, while idling the very workers who know best how to operate the ConEd system.”

New York utility Consolidated Edison and the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 1-2 in New York City were not able to reach a new agreement, which ultimately led to a lockout of over 8,500 unionized employees that went into effect when union contract expired at 12:01am on Sunday, July 1st. In a letter to the Public Service Commission, Assemblymember Cahill urged the Commission to deny any future requests from Consolidated Edison for rate increases to cover costs incurred as a result of the lockout.

"I have begun today to draft legislation that would prohibit any public utility from passing on the costs of misguided labor strategies, such as the ones being pursued here, to the rate payers. It would be adding insult to injury to ask ordinary consumers to shoulder the costs of such approaches. The right thing to do is to immediately return to the negotiating table and work together to give ConEd customers the high quality, safe and reliable service they deserve,” said Assemblymember Cahill.

The letter to the Public Service Commission from Assemblymember Cahill can be read below:

July 3, 2012

Garry Brown, Chairman
New York State Public Service Commission
3 Empire State Plaza
Albany, New York 12223-13 50

Dear Chairman Brown:

On Sunday July 1, 2012, labor negotiations between Consolidated Edison and the Utility

Workers of America Local l-2 to replace a now expired collective bargaining dissolved. The result was that Con Ed management imposed a lock-out of 8,500 unionized employees. This event has already brought immediate damage by critically threatening the energy security of the

New York City and Lower Hudson Valley area during peak summer load times and by putting the safety of less experienced, non­union staff at risk after requiring them to conduct routine maintenance. Furthermore, the long term consequences caused by a failure to come to an agreement will include increased costs to Consolidated Edison which could be passed onto the ratepayers residing in the utility’s service area. I urge you to exercise the powers and duties assigned to the Commission to secure the reliability of the energy supply and affordable costs for consumers as the effects of the lock out develop.

As you know, Article 4 of the Public Service Law grants the Public Service Commission broad powers intended to hold investor-owned gas and electric corporations accountable for providing safe and reliable service. This includes the authority to order fines and customer refunds if it is determined a utility has failed to meet those standards. Consolidated Edison’s consumers have no other option than to rely on the utility for the dependable delivery of power. Given the demand to the system and the fragility of the grid during these summer months, the conflict between Consolidated Edison and its employees could be devastating to the economy and public health, particularly for the elderly and infirm. Consequently, the obligation to provide safe, reliable and uninterrupted service is all the more compelling.

Further, the Public Service Law requires the PSC to approve any proposed utility rates. Should

Consolidated Edison apply for approval of a rate which reasons that additional costs incurred in this labor dispute lead to the need for additional fees, I would urge that this request be denied.

Consumers should not be charged for avoidable poor management decisions. In order to ensure that such charges will not be born by the consumer, I will be introducing legislation that would prohibit the charge back to ratepayers of the cost of employee benefits and other expenses resulting from a lock­out implemented by a public utility.

As a regional monopoly charged with providing electric, gas and steam services to New York

City and the Lower Hudson Valley, reliability is the primary regulated responsibility of Consolidated Edison. Adherence to strict safety and quality of service standards are essential to meeting that obligation. On Monday, July 2, 2012 a managerial, non­union employee who may not have been fully capable of handling emergency situations was burned on his head in a substation fire. It is of the utmost importance that safe Working conditions be preserved and service is not further disrupted.

The ongoing lock out poses a viable threat to the reliability of the service, and the health and safety of consumers and employees. My hope is that the Public Service Commission will appropriately enforce the law and that negotiations between Consolidated Edison and the Utility Workers of America Local l-2 will continue in good faith with both parties respectful of each other and the public.

Sincerely,
Kevin A. Cahill
Chair of the Assembly Energy Committee