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Andrew M. Cuomo – Governor
Governor Cuomo Sends Letter to Public Service Commission Regarding Lock Out
Albany, NY (July 25, 2012)
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today sent a letter to Public Service Commission chairman Garry Brown, urging the Commission to bring together representatives from Con Edison and the utilities’ labor union to end the lock out.
The letter is in response to a memorandum from the Public Service Commission (PSC) to the Governor’s office regarding the dispute between Con Ed and labor unions. Click here to read the memorandum from PSC to the Governor’s office.
The letter from the Governor is below:
Dear Chairman Brown:
I am in receipt of your memorandum outlining your view of the legal authority of the Public Service Commission to respond to work stoppages or lockouts involving regulated utilities.
I understand that the Public Service Commission’s view is that its authority to intervene directly in what is primarily a labor dispute is prevented by federal labor law. I understand further from your memorandum that the Commission has not previously inserted itself into a labor dispute. The Commission’s position is that it can only respond when “a severe event compromising safety or disrupting the provision of reliable service” occurs.
I respectfully suggest an alternative perspective. My administration has focused on fundamentally changing the way state government operates in order to position the government to proactively address problems facing New Yorkers and, when possible, prevent them happening in the first place. When we can take steps to avert disaster before it strikes, it is a dereliction of our public duty not to act. In the case of the current Con Ed lockout, it would be a failure to serve the public to respond only after a blackout or serious safety incident that occurs due to the labor dispute. I believe there is a real possibility of a safety or reliability issue if this situation continues. This is especially true as our region faces an ongoing heat wave which places significant stress on the power grid and requires all parties to devote the highest level of attention to the energy system.
This lockout has gone on long enough. Elected state and city officials are rightfully concerned. I urge you to bring both parties together to strongly encourage an expeditious resolution, and to emphasize that both Con Ed and the union will be held accountable by the people of the state if their failure to settle the dispute contributes to service disruptions or impacts safety.
GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO
Three weeks ago, Consolidated Edison, one of this state’s gold-plated utilities, decided it didn’t care for its pension costs and took the extraordinary step of locking out more than 8,000 unionized line workers in the midst of a baking-hot summer.
This was risky business. As New Yorkers have learned over the years, 100-degree heat can cause transformers to crackle and pop and, sometimes, great expanses of the city fall dark.
The governor, a Queens boy, knows this. Yet he casts himself as a near powerless observer.
His spokesman, Josh Vlasto, e-mailed me a statement, noting that the governor remained in touch with Con Edison and the union. Mr. Cuomo would love to see the lockout resolved “as soon as possible.”
If only he had the ability to make it so.
“The State Public Service Commission is headed by a board of five commissioners, only one of which was appointed” by the governor, Mr. Vlasto noted.
That, as excuses go, is thin gruel.
Let’s start with observable reality: This governor’s arm is long and muscled. As a Democratic state legislator noted, there is no truly independent state agency, commission, or board within a 400-mile radius of Mr. Cuomo’s office in Albany.
And the writ of his Public Services Commission is impressive. It can raise or roll back rates, or stick its nose into near every aspect of a utility’s business.
Governors from Mario M. Cuomo to George E. Pataki to David A. Paterson have routinely bent this commission to their will. Mr. Paterson forestalled a strike a few years back by forcing management and labor to talk.
Mr. Pataki, a Republican, was particularly unyielding. He dismissed a chairman who displeased him and forced the commission to keep rates low at the expense of adding money for infrastructure after the 2003 blackout.
One imagines Mr. Cuomo is their equal as a taskmaster.
A hint of Mr. Cuomo’s views on such matters came last month when he made his only appointment to that commission, Gregg C. Sayre.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to complement the policies and priorities of Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature,” Mr. Sayre said in a very prepared statement.
Many leaders in New York’s labor movement claim impatience with the governor’s passivity, although none will do more than tiptoe on the record.
Only John Melia, a spokesman for Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America, the union representing the locked-out workers, grows impassioned, in the manner of a kamikaze pilot espying a large aircraft carrier.
“I had a long conversation with one of the governor’s minions and I told him, ‘Don’t try to con us that the governor is actively engaged,’ ” he said. “He’s abdicated his responsibility.”
In truth, Local 1-2 came half-undressed to this battle. For months, Con Edison trained managers and recruited nonunion replacement workers. Yet the union stumbled into the lockout without anything that looked like a real strike fund in place.
Con Edison, it should be noted, is not a hand-to-mouth utility. Its reasons for picking this fight, even as the union contracts expired, are obscure. It recorded a $1 billion profit last year and had a return on assets near the top of its industry. Its stock has risen heliumlike, by 18.6 percent in the last year.
Nor are its executive and board members impoverished. Kevin Burke, the chief executive officer, pulled down more than $11 million last year. And the politically wired board members, who include Ellen V. Futter of the Museum of Natural History and Gordon Davis, the former city parks commissioner, make about $200,000 a year in compensation.
But most intriguing is the presence on the board of Michael J. Del Giudice, a financier who has served as the closest possible adviser to Mario and Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Del Giudice pulls down $243,000 for service to Con Edison.
By contrast, a veteran line worker at Con Edison makes about $75,000 to $85,000, plus overtime. And that worker can expect to retire with a pension of perhaps $40,000 per year.
Mr. Vlasto, in his statement, noted that both the utility and the union had contributed to the governor’s campaign coffers. As a prophylactic, this statement elided a more intriguing donation.
Con Edison also contributed $250,000 to the Committee to Save New York, a real estate and business dominated group that functions as an extragubernatorial lobbying army for Mr. Cuomo.
Politics cannot profitably be reduced to a single motivation. A governor has many reasons to duck confrontation and the responsibility that accompanies it. But Robert Vuono, a veteran line worker and union official, is unsparing about his governor.
“It’s like he’s a Democrat in Republican clothing,” he said. “Doesn’t he realize we are one transformer explosion away from a real political nightmare?”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 23, 2012
A previous version of this article misspelled the surname of former Gov. David A. Paterson as Patterson.