Union says it has tentative deal with Con Edison

Consolidated Edison and a union representingnearly 9,000 of the utility's workers reached a tentative agreementWednesday after "extremely contentious" contract talks, aspokesman for the union said. Negotiations for the four-year contract had begun Tuesday inManhattan but continued well after an 11:59 p.m. deadline the unionhad set for a possible walkout. But both sides agreed to "stop theclock" minutes before the deadline and negotiated through theearly morning hours Wednesday to reach the tentative deal. Joe Flaherty, a spokesman for the Utility Workers Union ofAmerica Local 1-2, said that the two sides negotiated a range ofissues, including wages, safety and health care. One of the major sticking points for the union - Con Edison'sproposal to switch from traditional pensions to a 401(K)-style planfor new employees - was tabled by the utility "at the 11th hour,"Flaherty said. "I think they fully understood that this union and its memberswould not stand for a change in their long traditional pension,"Flaherty said. The union represents about two-thirds of ConEdison's 14,000 employees. Con Edison spokesman Michael Clendenin did not immediatelyrespond to a request for comment early Wednesday. Negotiations resumed Tuesday morning in Manhattan after theywere suspended over the weekend when Gov. David Paterson intervenedand suggested both sides take a cooling off period. The union had threatened to walk off the job early Sunday if anagreement wasn't reached but Paterson, expressing concerning aboutthe potential impact a strike would have on customers during hotweather, stepped in late Saturday. Most of the union's workers maintain the utility's gas, electricand steam delivery systems for some three million customers in mostof New York City and Westchester County. The two sides didn't agree on what effect a strike could havehad, with Flaherty arguing that a walkout would be"catastrophic," particularly for elderly and disabled customers.Con Edison, however, had insisted it could keep the power systemrunning smoothly during a strike. The utility had repeatedly pointed out that about half of itsmanagers rose through its ranks and would respond to anyemergencies if workers struck. However, non-emergency repairs andmeter reading could be delayed, the utility had said. In 1983, a strike by the union lasted more than two months.During that strike, a 20-block area including the garment districtwent dark for days after a water main break started an electricalfire in a substation. The blackout forced hundreds of offices andstores to close. Gimbels and Macy's department stores used emergency generators. Crews of Con Ed supervisors worked to splice power lines toother substations and bypass the destroyed transformers. Con Edisonofficials at the time said the strike had no effect on thecompany's response to the outage.Union:Con Ed stalling contract talksPatersonintervenes to delay Con Ed strikeConEd workers ready to strike if no deal is reached