Gov: NYC utility, union strike deal to end lockout

July 26, 2012 - 6:47 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, fearing that a severe storm could wreak havoc with the city's power system, intervened in a labor dispute between the Consolidated Edison utility and its workers and brokered a tentative agreement Thursday after a weeks-long standoff.

"You don't want a storm hitting New York City without Con Ed being at full force," Cuomo said at a news conference announcing that an agreement had been reached.

Terms of the four-year agreement were not disclosed, since it must be taken back to the union's executive committee and membership and to Con Ed's board. But Cuomo said it was "a good deal, I believe, for both sides."

Workers greeted news of the agreement with caution.

"I am happy as long as it works out," said Bob Missing, who has worked for the company for 50 years. "I am about to retire so I am really concerned about our pensions."

City residents were glad the standoff seemed to be over.

"It took long enough," said Elba Mendez, of the Bronx. "Governor Cuomo should have gotten involved earlier. It is not only a storm that could affect us."

The previous contract between Con Ed and Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers of America had expired June 30, with Con Ed locking out about 8,000 employees just hours later. Among the points of contention had been pensions and health care.

The lockout continued even as high temperatures stifled the city on several days. But Thursday night was expected to bring severe thunderstorms, with damaging winds and hail, to the city and larger region.

That pushed Cuomo into getting involved, and he brought the sides together. Initially, an agreement was reached for half the locked-out employees to return to work temporarily, for the duration of any emergency and any following repairs.

The sides continued talking after that temporary agreement was reached, leading to the tentative contract agreement later Thursday.

Cuomo, a Democrat, credited the impending storm for its role in the dispute's resolution.

"Sometimes a storm has a silver lining," he said. "And I think this storm actually had a silver lining by bringing the parties together."

He spoke at his Manhattan office after personally overseeing several hours of negotiations between Con Ed officials, including President Kevin Burke, and union leadership.

Local 1-2 President Harry Farrell said the sides "never would have been able" to get the deal done without the governor's intervention.

"All of my members will be going back to work ASAP," he said.

Burke said Thursday was the first day that he was personally involved in the labor talks. He said Cuomo "has certain skills that help bring people together."

About 5,000 managers, former employees and contractors were keeping the power going for 3.2 million customers in New York City and Westchester County, just north of the city, during the lockout.