Amsterdam News: Subcontracted Con Edison cleaners rally for better wages

Subcontracted workers took to the Con Edison building in Manhattan to protest for better jobs and better wages.

Con Edison cleaners took to the front of 4 Irving Place in Manhattan last week to tell the power company that they’re struggling to get by on current “poverty” wages. They’ve called for Con Edison to follow the law in its facilities. They’ve also called for the passage of a bill that would require publicly subsidized utility companies to pay building service workers a prevailing wage.

“For years, Con-Ed has refused to reciprocate the public support it receives and has allowed its contractors to cut corners while paying workers the minimum wage, with few, if any benefits,” said 32BJ Vice President Denis Johnston. “At the very least these companies like Con-Ed should require that the law be followed inside their facilities, but they should also offer prevailing wage jobs that strengthen local communities and allow workers to pay their bills and put food on the table.”

Johnston and Con Edison employees were joined by elected officials such as New York City Council Members Harvey Epstein and Ben Kallos and a staff member from New York City Council Member Margaret Chin’s office.

“I’m horrified to hear that Con Edison’s contractors aren’t following the paid sick leave law in New York. That’s illegal and has to change,” said Kallos. “Usually when someone breaks the law they go to jail—these public utility companies have no reason to under pay workers. Con-Ed’s contractors Imperial and Nelson can do better.”

Con Edison is still under fire for shutting the power off during a deadly heat wave in the city this summer. Some elected officials, such as New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, are still questioning the company’s actions. In a fundraising email in early September, Williams told potential donors, “The scale and impact of the decision raises questions that, so far, Con Edison has insufficiently answered. At the City Council meeting last week [where Con Edison officials fielded pointed questions from Williams and others on the City Council] rather than explain to the public what happened, they dodged questions and attempted to skirt blame.”

As New Yorkers want to hold Con Edison accountable for its service, workers and elected officials want to hold the company accountable for its labor practices.

“Public utilities workers deserve the same standards as any worker doing the same job in our city,” said New York State Assembly Woman Yuh-Line Niou. “These public utility companies are privately owned and granted huge monopolies in New York, yet the workers who work full time cleaning their buildings and providing their security are not given health insurance, sick leave or fair wages.”