Con Ed, union reach deal; some workers return immediately

Members of the Utility Workers Union of America

Members of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2 participate in a march and rally in support of locked out Consolidated Edison workers at Union Square in New York. The Con Ed workers were locked out on June 30 after their contract expired and negotiations over a new one failed. About 5,000 managers are keeping electricity going for 3.2 million customers in New York City and Westchester County. (July 17, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Goaded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Consolidated Edison Thursday reached a four-year contract agreement with unionized workers who had been locked out since July 1 in an often bitter labor dispute.

The agreement came after intense negotiations Thursday morning at the governor's office in Manhattan. Rank-and-file union members will have to ratify the contract. The details of the deal were not immediately disclosed. Health care, pensions and wages were the key sticking points in the negotiations.

In the interim, unionized electrical workers have been instructed to return "ASAP," with other union workers ordered to show up for their "next regular shift," according to the union's website.

"I didn't come here today expecting to reach an agreement," said Harry Farrell, president of Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers of America. He lauded Cuomo for his "charisma," which helped bridge the gap between the union and company negotiators.

Joining Farrell and Michael Langford, president of the International Union of the UAW, at the governor's office was Kevin Burke, president and chief executive of Con Edison.

Like the union leaders, Burke credited Cuomo for the breakthrough.

"Under the governor's leadership, we came together," he said.

Cuomo said he was spurred to take a hand in negotiations because of an approaching front of thunderstorms that threatened to wreak havoc on the electrical grid. Ultimately, some 1,600 customers in Westchester County lost service, though almost all had power back by Friday morning. "Sometimes a storm has a silver lining," he said. "This storm had a silver lining."

Earlier in the day, Cuomo announced a deal under which only the union's electrical crews -- accounting for less than half of the roughly 8,500 locked out workers -- would return to work temporarily to help the utility cope with outages, downed lines and other fallout from the storm.

In recent days, Cuomo stepped up his role in the labor conflict, instructing regulators at the Public Service Commission to bring the sides in the often belligerent labor talks together.

The governor's "moral suasion" and the prospect of having PSC regulators investigate the utility's service record since the lockout "has lit a fire under Con Edison," union spokesman John Melia said of the increased pace of negotiations.

"We applaud the Governor's support and leadership for doing what's in the best interests of all New Yorkers," the company said.

Con Edison had used about 5,000 managers and out-of-state contract workers to fill the field jobs vacated during the lockout.

Con Edison serves about 3.2 million customers, including 350,000 in Westchester.

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