Strike deadline passes; Con Ed, union workers stop clock on labor negotiations

(06/26/04) GLEN COVE, LONG ISLAND - The possibility of a strike for about 8,600 Con Ed union workers is currently on hold. Their 12:01 a.m. Sunday deadline to reach a deal for a new contract with the company has passed, but the Utility Workers Union of America and Con Ed officials have decided to continue negotiating after the deadline.

The top negotiator for the union, his counterpart for Con Ed, and a mediator are continuing their discussions in a room at the Harrison Conference Center in Glen Cove on Long Island. Union spokesman Steven Mangione says the extension was made because Con Ed and the union had reached agreement on several crucial issues including pension, sick time, worker safety and work rules in the 10 minutes before the original deadline. But he adds two major points of contention were left unresolved -- wages and medical benefits.

If the two sides cannot work out an agreement on these items within a reasonable time during the overtime negotiation period, the union workers could still strike.

Con Ed says they are prepared for a work stoppage. Company officials say their managers, half of whom came up from the rank and file, are trained to fill in for striking workers. Con Ed adds there should be no service disruptions. The only change would be the possible suspension of meter readings. Many union officials are skeptical that managers can handle the work of those who may be picketing.

The affected Con Ed workers include clerical staff, field splicers, mechanics, wiring technicians, meter readers and customer service representatives. A strike would affect customers in all five boroughs of New York City and in most of Westchester County. Con Ed workers last went on strike in 1983. Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America's walkout lasted nine weeks.

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