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Talks Fail; Con Ed Limits Non-Emergency Services

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. ? Con Edison officials said the company will continue to respond to any emergencies that arise, but non-emergency services will be limited, according to a statement released after contract talks between the utility company and unionized workers broke down shortly before 2 a.m. on Sunday.

After Con Ed and Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers of America failed to reach an agreement before the workers' contract expired at midnight Saturday, 8,500 union members were locked out of the company and around 5000 managers were called in to maintain electric, gas and steam service to the utility company’s 3.2 million customers.

Con Ed officials stated that New York customers, excluding those living in Staten Island, should be aware of certain service changes.

The company advised customers that they can continue to call 1-800-75CONED for service problems at any time. Any customer who smells gas should call the company immediately.

For questions about bills, Con Ed asked that customers call between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Con Ed said that company walk-in centers will be closed, but payments will continue to be processed through all other regular channels.

Additionally, Con Ed said that meter reading will be suspended for most customers, and estimates will be automatically prepared based on account records.

According to Con Ed's statement, “All company personnel have been preparing for the possibility of a union work stoppage for months.”

The company dispatched management employees to report to their field assignments Sunday morning at 1 a.m., according to the statement, and "trained and experienced management personnel are staffing essential operations."

After the talks failed, Con Ed spokesman Michael Clendenin said the company's offer to extend the current contract to July 14 while contract talks continued remains on the table, adding that if the union leadership agreed to extend the current contract, the company would "welcome its employees back immediately."

Local union delegate Robert Benson of Lake Carmel, N.Y., who works out of Con Ed's Eastview Service Center in Valhalla, said that union workers began picketing Con Ed sites at 2 a.m., right after talks broke down. The picketing will continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week until workers get their fair contract, he said.

"They are tying to take away our pay, they are trying to take away our pension and they are trying to take away our benefits," Benson said.

According to Benson, Local 1-2 leaders have encouraged all union workers to file for New York state unemployment benefits on Monday morning.

"I don’t know when they're going to sit down and negotiate the contract again," he said. "I would think they're going to do it probably tomorrow because you’re going to have 8,500 people applying for unemployment first thing in the morning.”

Benson said he will know more on Tuesday after he meets with his union.

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