As Mother Nature turned up the heat on New York City July 17 with soaring temperatures around 100 degrees, hundreds of union workers from around New York City turned up the heat on Con Edison. They rallied at the utility giant’s lower Manhattan headquarters in support of the 8,500 members of Utility Workers of America (UWA) Local 1-2 whom Con Ed locked out of their jobs without warning on July 1.
Local 1-2’s contract with Con Ed expired on June 30. Management claims it locked UWA workers out because the union refused to guarantee a 72-hour strike notice. Workers call that a smokescreen for management’s real agenda: an attack on worker pensions and benefits. Throughout negotiations, Con Ed bosses have refused to budge on demands for major concessions, including elimination of the defined benefit pension plan in favor of a 401k-modeled plan, and elimination of workers’ disability pension plan, which pays a benefit to workers who are injured on the job.
1199SEIU President George Gresham promised UWA workers that 1199ers would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their struggle. “Why should the boss be the only one eating from the pie and the workers get the crumbs?” Gresham challenged. “When you mess with labor you mess with all of us, not just one of us,”
After the lively and raucous rally at Con Ed’s Irving Place headquarters, workers and their supporters marched over to Union Square. Banners and signs from the United Federation of Teachers, the Communications Workers of America, Transit Workers Local 100 and the Retail and Department Store Workers Union were just some of those represented in the crowd.
Local 1-2 members wore t-shirts emblazoned with the vow, “Whatever it takes.” Over at Union Square, members of the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 treated the crowd to some Dixieland Jazz, which seemed appropriate in the hot and humid July evening.
Union leaders from every sector and elected officials from across the boroughs were on hand to show their support. Mike Langford, president of the International Utility Workers, assured Con Ed bosses that the fight would go on as long as it took to win for workers.
“We all have to stand up and do whatever it takes to put the 1% back in their place,” he shouted over a roar of applause.