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Locked-out workers protest at Con Ed

Union workers at power company Con Edison picket

Union workers at power company Con Edison picket outside company headquarters in New York City. 8.500 workers from the utility have been locked out in a contract dispute in the midst of a summer heat wave. (July 2, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

Locked-out Con Edison workers were relentless in their flag-waving and horn- and whistle-blowing protest at the utility's main office on 14th Street Thursday despite the sweltering heat.

More than 500 workers from the five boroughs, Long Island and Westchester County began their demonstration early in the morning, citing the company's lockout of union workers and the termination of their medical insurance.

Con Ed and Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2, which represents about 8,500 workers, could not reach an agreement on a new contract that expired at midnight Sunday.

When talks resumed Thursday at noon, a federal mediator participated.

Con Ed spokesman Michael Clendenin said three managers were injured since the lockout began. He said employees can return to their jobs Friday if their union leaders agree to extend the expired contract several weeks.

The company also continued a voltage reduction in 23 Brooklyn neighborhoods Thursday and published a newspaper ad lambasting the union.

The 5 percent voltage reductions in Brooklyn, initiated Wednesday night, continued into a second day as a "precautionary measure" to reduce strain on the system while crews work to repair equipment, Clendenin said.

Customers don't lose power as a result of the voltage reductions, he said, but lights may appear dimmer.

"All we're looking for is a fair contract," said Russell Borgio, 54, of Deer Park, a senior Con Ed technician. "We don't want to give back what we have fought so hard to get through the years. I have a family of four to support and they want to raise my medical benefits."

"They [the company] want to destroy our pension plans. I can't retire on what they want to give us," said Borgio, who has worked for the utility for 35 years.

Protesters drummed, banged on cow bells and pots and pans, and held signs that read, "No Rights No Lights" and "Corporate Greed Destroys the Family."

Nicholas Kennedy, 31, of Putnam County, traveled with his three children and wife to protest the lockout. An auto mechanic, Kennedy said he took the Con Ed job five years ago because of its pension plan. He said his benefits have been cut off and he has no money coming in.

"There's nothing right now," he said, cradling one of his 18-month-old twin daughters.

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