Con Edison in talks to avoid strike in NYC

Negotiations continued Saturday evening between Consolidated Edison and the union representing almost two-thirds of its work force, but a union spokesman said the outlook wasn't promising as a midnight deadline loomed for a possible strike.

Con Edison spokesman Michael Clendenin declined to characterize the tenor of the talks, but he said the giant utility remained hopeful a deal would be reached.

Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2 has said its 9,000 members might walk off the job at midnight if negotiations don't result in a better contract offer. The union represents most of the workers who maintain the utility's gas, electric and steam delivery systems.

Clendenin said a strike wouldn't disrupt service.

A walkout could come as temperatures in the high 80s and thunderstorms are forecast for Sunday. Clendenin said Con Edison managers - about half of whom rose through the utility's ranks - would respond to any emergencies if workers struck. Con Edison has nearly 14,000 employees in all.

Non-emergency repairs and meter reading could be delayed, Clendenin said.

"We are hopeful that we'll get an agreed-upon contract," he said. "But we're preparing for anything."

The negotiations were taking place at a hotel in East Rutherford, N.J. Union spokesman Joe Flaherty said the two sides remained at odds Saturday evening over issues including wages, health care costs and pensions.

"They haven't put anything reasonable on the table yet," Flaherty said. He said the union hoped to avoid a strike, but "it really, really doesn't look good."

The union's membership has authorized a strike if a deal isn't reached, but Flaherty said a walkout would not be automatic if the midnight deadline comes without a deal. Union leaders could decide to keep talking or to bring the utility's last offer to members fora vote, among other possibilities.

Con Edison provides electricity in most of New York City and Westchester County and supplies natural gas service in much of the same area. The utility also operates a massive steam system that heats and cools thousands of buildings.

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