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Con Ed Protests Continue at Irving Place, and the Rumor Mill Heats Up - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com


Con Ed Protests Continue at Irving Place, and the Rumor Mill Heats Up


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Councilmembers James and Mark-Viverito with Ms. PhillipsMelvin Felix Left to right: Councilmember Letitia James, union member Carol Phillips, Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito.

A couple of hundred demonstrators today continued to protest outside of Con Ed headquarters at 4 Irving Place, where unconfirmed rumors of on-the-job heart attacks bounced between union representatives and City Council members.

Paul Albano, a business agent for the Utility Workers Union of America’s Local 1-2 division, which represents over 8,000 workers locked out by the utility company Sunday, continued to insist that the 5,000 managers who have replaced the unionized workers are too inexperienced to properly perform maintenance and repairs. “We had people that witnessed management taking cones — as simple as cones — off the back of the truck, and because they’re so hot, they burned their hands and they dropped them,” he said. “You’re supposed to be using gloves on it. They don’t even know the basics of setting up a manhole.”

Con Ed told Reuters that since the lockout, four replacement workers had received injuries, none of them life-threatening. But Mr. Albano had heard otherwise. “We’ve heard of about five to seven management personnel getting hurt, anywhere from car accidents to flashes in the face and explosions,” he said, “and we’ve even heard two managers had heart attacks.”

Chuck Zlatkin of the New York Metro Area Postal Union holds a sign denouncing Con Edison CEO Kevin Burke.Melvin Felix Chuck Zlatkin of the New York Metro Area Postal
Union holds a sign denouncing Con Edison CEO
Kevin Burke.

Mr. Albano said that he heard a manager died of a heart attack while on the job, though he said he couldn’t confirm it. City Council member Letitia James, who was at the protest, also alluded to the rumor, saying, “The point is that this gentleman was out in the heat. Given the conditions, obviously, that sort of aggravated his health concerns. I’m sure it affected his health, unfortunately resulting in his death.”

The Local found no published reports of the rumored death, and Con Ed did not respond to multiple messages requesting comment.

Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito said, “They’re trying to minimize the importance and the skill level that these workers have. There’s a lot of training involved, and experience. The fact that you’re starting to see these accidents is reflective of the skill and the value that these workers have.”

Carol Phillips, a 57-year-old member of the Local 1-2 Union, said she was hopeful ongoing contract negotiations would end favorably. “I’ve been here 35 years and I’m looking forward to having my pension like all the other former employees and union members,” she said. “The company is doing very well so I don’t understand why they want to go down that road.”

Members of other unions, such as the recently merged Screen Actors Guild-American Federation and the Television and Radio Artists unions, also attended the demonstration. Jonathan Smith, president of the New York Metro Area Postal Union, said, “An injury to one is an injury to all. We’re coming here in solidarity because we have to hold up the struggle for labor as a whole.”

Mr. Albano estimated that 100 to 150 managers had sufficient knowledge to competently replace the locked-out workers. “If you go through the city, you’ll see Con Ed set-ups that are totally unsafe. They’re ridiculously unsafe,” he said, adding that he hoped talks would come to a conclusion soon. “We’re not asking for the moon and the sky,” he said. “We’re asking for a decent wage and something to protect ourselves and our families.”