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Con Ed talks to resume, but location under wraps

NEWS 12 WESTCHESTER: The Con Edison lockout entered its third day Tuesday. (July 3, 2012)

Negotiators for Consolidated Edison and its 8,500 unionized workers will meet at noon Thursday at an undisclosed New York City hotel in an effort to hammer out a new contract, a union spokesman said.

"We're hopeful because hope springs eternal in the human breast," said John Melia, quoting poet Alexander Pope.

Melia said federal mediators would take part in the latest round of talks, which comes five days after the contract expired at midnight Saturday. Talks will take place at a hotel in one of New York City's five boroughs, he said, explaining that the location remains under wraps to ensure negotiators are not mobbed.

Scores of union pickets headed back to Consolidated Edison's Eastview service center in Valhalla Tuesday morning despite the plan to resume bargaining.

"Our membership is energized on its own," Melia said. "They're angered that they're out of work."

Con Ed spokesman Michael Clendenin said that the company still wants the members of Utility Workers of America Local 1-2 to return to work and agree to give the company sufficient notice if they decide a future job action.

"Whatever it takes," read some signs carried by workers as they picketed at the entrance to the Valhalla service center. Others said: "Locked out."

On Monday, an unidentified employee sustained what Con Ed officials described as "minor" burns while working at a Brooklyn substation.

Since the lockout began early Sunday morning, union officials warned that Con Ed's plan to use 5,000 managers to replace striking workers was fraught with risk.

"It's sad to see somebody getting hurt out there," said Jason Ayala, as he walked a picket line in front of Con Ed's Union Square headquarters Monday. "We don't want to go to anyone's funeral."

Union and utility officials said pensions and health care benefits were key issues in hammering out a new contract. The utility serves 3.2 million customers, including 350,000 in Westchester.

"These are all issues we're trying to negotiate with the union," Clendenin said. "In the end, they will get a good wage and benefits package."

In the pension negotiations, Con Ed has pressed to replace its defined-benefit pension plan with a cash balance plan. Traditional defined benefit plans offer a series of monthly payments for life, and cash balance plans limit the benefit to a stated account balance that can be taken either as a lump sum or in the form of an annuity.

Melia, Local 1-2 spokesman, said Harry Farrell, the union president, had been in touch with negotiators from the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service in an effort to restart negotiations.

Con Ed closed walk-in centers, suspended meter readings and limited work on major construction projects statewide after talks broke down about 2 a.m. Sunday at the Hilton.

The impasse came as oppressive heat and humidity boosted demand for air-conditioning. The National Weather Service forecast a high of 89 degrees in White Plains with a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms Tuesday night. The mercury is expected to edge up to 90 degrees on Independence Day with a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms.

On Monday, Ned McCormack, senior adviser to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, said that the county stands ready to provide emergency aid from police, fire and social service agencies.

"The county has been in contact with Con Edison over the weekend and has been monitoring the situation closely," he said. "We hope the two sides can resolve their differences quickly without any impact on customer operations. Should a need arise, the county stands ready to offer assistance."

Customers of Orange & Rockland, a wholly owned subsidiary of Con Ed, are unaffected by the strike.

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