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Con Edison Workers and the Real Face of Privatization
One can only hope that the Utility Workers Union is serious about its strike threat. Pulling the workforce off the job for a protracted amount of time may help New Yorkers see that vital city functions such as the operation of utilities cannot be run privately.Administrative workers at the currently non-profit health insurance companies GHI & HIP face the very real prospect of having their employer become a for-profit company. The exact meaning of this may seem murky. Nearly every study of privatization, particularly privatization in the healthcare industry, has demonstrated that spending on administration increases. Bad news for subscribers who need healthcare but seemingly great news for workers in search of fat paychecks, right?
Well, the more than 9,000 workers currently employed by Con Edison would beg to differ. Contract talks between their now privately held employer and the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2 have reached an impasse. The utility's stingy management has offered a 0.5% per -year wage increase and the union has threatened to walk off the job. As usual, the employer has appealed for mediation and "productive discussion" despite the fact that their wage offer is nearly 3% below the annual rate of inflation.
Con Ed supplies and maintains most of New York City's electric, gas and steam service. Since the company was de-regulated in 1998 there have been a series of high profile disasters. In 2005, stray voltage killed a woman who was walking her dog after she stepped on an electrified plate. 2007's disaster was even larger as an 83 year-old steam pipe burst in Midtown resulting in the death of one person and 40 injuries. Finally, the company is largely blamed for a massive blackout in Queens in 2006 for which they offered "inconvenienced" customers a $100 rebate check and a "brief apology."
Con Ed is the largest for-profit utility company in the country. Most urban utilities are either run by state-owned companies or tightly regulated non-profits. Con Ed has also spun out an energy subsidiary called Con Ed Energy which nationally markets electricity produced in NYC plants. This practice is held to be a root cause of a persistent wave of blackouts nation-wide.
So, in NYC a massive for-profit company is charged with servicing an infrastructure which is essentially crumbling under the weight of its own age. There has been no substantial effort post-1970s fiscal crisis to upgrade the urban infrastructure. This is perfectly fine with Con Ed executives as it ensures a steady line of funding for patchwork projects.
Now, however, even this is not enough. Now the company intends to squeeze every last penny out of both NYC citizens and its own workers paychecks. One can only hope that the Utility Workers Union is serious about its strike threat. Pulling the workforce off the job for a protracted amount of time may help New Yorkers see that vital city functions such as the operation of utilities cannot be run privately. The only motivation is profit - whether it come from soaring customer bills, work contracts from our city budget or from the wallets of workers.
Mark this as a little lesson for GHI & HIP workers and other folks facing possible privatization. The promised returns to you are just thinly veiled mirages. Lurking behind the seduction is a grim future where management is preparing to grind every last penny out of your pocket. The less protection you have the easier this will be.