On Saturday, Consolidated Edison workers and supporters rallied at the company’s headquarters in lower Manhattan. The workers were abruptly locked out by Con Ed at the expiration of their old contract on July 1. The company is seeking to impose major concessions on its workforce, especially regarding health and pension benefits. Speaking to the WSWS, workers expressed anger at the company, dissatisfaction with the union, and an understanding of the wider implications of the struggle.
John Hendrikson, who has been with Con Ed 18 years working in transportation, said, “This lockout is caused by the economic crisis. Before, jobs were easy to come by. Now that jobs are hard to come by, the companies are taking advantage of that.”
Referring to the recent revelation that Con Ed had made a $250,000 contribution to a political committee which supports New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, known for his anti-working class agenda, Hendrickson said, “Anytime these companies make contributions to the politicians, it’s giving them a payment for favors down the road. They have already paid their dues to the politicians. It is money to get support against the working class.
“Those who have the money are the ones who are calling the shots. The capitalists have the money and so they could do whatever they want. They dictate everything.
“I have never trusted the politicians. Before the elections, they address the masses with promises. But they really don’t care about us. They are just power hungry, and represent the capitalist class.
“People need to look at what is going around the world. The world is going through a recession. It is a world economic crisis for us, but not for the CEOs. The CEO of Con Ed makes around $12 million in salary and $18 million in back pay. These people make more money in one year than we can make in 5 or 6 lifetimes.
“I don’t trust the unions. They just take the dues.”
Kevin McCusker, who works at the East River 14th Street facility, told the WSWS, “I don’t want an appeal to the PSC to result in us going back to work without contract. What is the point? Why should we go back and sit with no protection without a contract?
“I don’t understand why the unions didn’t go out in support of PATCO. This was the start of things, and I think everyone should have gone out. Everyone is in the same boat. We all have mortgages, education and health care to pay for.
“I have been in unions for 40 years, and one union never gets support from other unions. I think it is a great idea for all the unions to stand together in a massive shutdown strike. No subways, no buses, no trains, no deliveries, nothing of any kind moves or works.
“The union leaders should have been more responsive. I don’t know what the reason is, but as I said, I’ve never seen a union that said they would support another union. I’ve been in a company union and a Teamsters’ union before my four years here in the Utility Workers union at Con Ed. I tried to get the company union to join the Teamsters, but they shouted me down. Now those jobs are $14 an hour jobs that are non-union.
Quinton, who had worked for Con Ed for eight months, also commented on the role of political contributions as well as the union’s appeal to the Public Service Commission (PSC) to end the lockout.
“It doesn’t look good with Con Ed giving $250,000 to back Cuomo, and our union giving him $10,000. As the presidential elections show, you can spread a lot of lies with that kind of money.”
When asked about the union calling on the PSC to intervene, he responded, “The PSC becoming part of this is a bad idea. They could send us back to work without a contract. I think we are better off with the lockout than we would have been going out on strike.”
Camille Crawfore, with 10 years’ at Con Ed, told the WSWS, “I think this lockout is unfair. We are living paycheck to paycheck. People out here are having trouble paying the bills. No matter when we get back to work we will be behind on debts, a lot of my coworkers have mortgages to worry about.
“The lockout is bigger than Con Ed. We are one of the biggest unions and if we lose, all the smaller ones will fall to the wayside. All the companies want the workers to live subpar. They are turning their attacks on all of us.
“A lot of people don’t know what is going on. The union is not educating us, because they don’t want us to know what is happening. When I started working no one told me what my responsibilities and rights were in the union. It is like the unions have all these members but no idea what to do with them.”