PSC Directs Con Edison to Respond to Petition for Investigation of Service Impairment Due to Company’s Lockout of Unionized Workers

On July 12, 2012, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) directed Con Edison to respond by July 17, 2012 to a Motion for Initiation of Expedited Investigation and Interim Reliefseeking that the Commission: 

(1) initiate and conduct on an expedited basis an investigation into the quality, reliability, and safety of the service currently being provided by Consolidated Edison Company of New York . . .  to its utility customers; 

(2) investigate whether customers are being charged for a quality and level of service that ConEd is not providing, and for costs that ConEd is not incurring associated with some 8,500 workers who are involuntarily off the job; and

(3) provide interim relief by directing the Company to terminate immediately its lockout of employees represented by UWUA Local 1-2 and direct their return to work during the pendency of the Commission’s investigation.

The Petition was brought by the Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO Local 1-2.

The Petition references duties required of the utility under the New York Public Service Law, such as the duty to to provide safe and adequate service, points out services which are not being provided or which are diminished due to the lockout, and contends that the company lockout has “imperiled the safety and reliability of utility services provided to its customers.”  \

The Petition cites certain specific services mandated by statute which are not being provided, such as meter reading and maintaining walk-in offices where people can apply for service, make payment arrangements, and make complaints in person, and notes that “:using estimated bills (which may be much too high) and closing the Company’s walk-in centers, are likely to disproportionately affect the Company’s most vulnerable, low-income customers.”

In addition, the Petition states that work essential to service reliability is being reduced.  The petition gives examples, including 

  • Transformer Inspections
  • Manhole Inspections
  • Coating Refurbishment Program
  • Stray or Contact Voltage Work
  • Preventive Maintenance to Avoid Voltage Reduction.Heat Event Response
  • Permanent Repairs
  • Gas Service, and
  • Steam Services.

The Petition maintains that

This is not a crisis caused by an outside force; it is a self-inflicted wound.
Likewise, the Company should not be heard to claim that its implementation of a strike
contingency plan satisfies the current concerns. There is no strike. Instead, the Company
has made a decision to drastically downsize its workforce and, as a result, unduly
jeopardize safety and reliability by providing substandard service—presumably in an
effort to try and gain an advantage in pending labor negotiations. 

Even more fundamental, while not currently receiving service from the thousands
told by ConEd not to report for work, the Company’s customers continue to pay rates that
include the costs associated with the salaries and benefits for the 8,500 persons who are
currently subject to the lockout as well as the higher managerial salaries to employees
who are not now performing managerial tasks, but are instead doing craft work. The
Commission should not permit the Company to charge rates for services that are not
being received, and for employees who—as a result of ConEd’s unilateral action—have
no ability to service Company customers.

The Petition emphasizes that

The Commission is not being asked to mediate a labor dispute. It is instead beingasked to act in accordance with its statutory mandate and in recognition of the obvious:
5,000 managers (many of whom lack field experience) cannot be performing the utility
work routinely performed by 13,500 employees, including 8,500 craft personnel who are
now off the job.

The Petition cites decisions of other state utility regulatory commissions that have acted to protect the public and consumers in situations where utilities proposed to lay off workers needed to fulfill public service duties.

The Petition asked the PSC to order Con Edison to respond by July 13; the Commission Secretary issued a directive “[b]alancing the need for expedition and our interest in a robust response, [directing] Consolidated Edison to provide a response to the Motion by Tuesday, July 17, 2012 by 4:30 P.M.

Papers filed with the PSC in the case are at http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/MatterManagement/CaseMaster.aspx?MatterSeq=40285

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