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Daily News: Con Edison staff protests power company's poor wages and health benefits plan

 

 

Fernando Cruz (c.) and other workers rally in Union Square.

Con Edison CEO Kevin Burke's annual wages are, without a doubt, extremely generous. But the wages of workers who clean his luxurious Manhattan office every day are not.

Burke makes a whopping $7.3 million a year, but the men and women who maintain his office and power plants are paid a meager $8.50 an hour and get no benefits. Talk about disparity.

One of those workers is Fernando Cruz, a Dominican immigrant and 15-year Harlem resident. Cruz has been a maintenance worker at the Con Ed power plant at 14th St. and Avenue C for about a year. He works five days a week from 7a.m. to 3 p.m. His take-home pay is about $300 per week.

"I work at Con Ed, but need food stamps to get by," said Cruz, 31, the father of a 5-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl. "Now that even the subway has gone up, my weekly take-home pay is barely enough to pay for transportation.

"And with a monthly electricity bill of some $200," he added with some bitterness, "I feel that Con Ed is taking back whatever little I get paid,"

Cruz's predicament is not at all unusual among the maintenance workers who are members of Local 32BJ, the largest property service union in the country.

To dramatize their plight, hundreds of workers and their supporters rallied Tuesday at Union Square, a block from the Con Ed headquarters.

The workers, although not on Con Ed's payroll, were demanding that Burke hire contractors that pay decent wages.

"Although the cleaners are not direct employees of Con Edison, as a publicly regulated utility, your company has an obligation to ensure that it hires responsible contractors that employ workers at reasonable, livable wages with health benefits," state Sen. Thomas Duane wrote to Burke.

He was one of several state and city elected officials, including Assembly members Linda Rosenthal and Adriano Espaillat, and City Council members Miguel Martínez, Letitia James and Rosie Méndez, who have written to Burke urging him to hire responsible contractors. The utility is regulated by the state Public Service Commission.

Right now, the cleaning contractors Con Ed uses at its power plants, offices and electrical substations across the city are Nelson Services, Apple Maintenance, T&T Cleaning and Janitorial, Accent Maintenance and Martinez Cleaning.

Héctor Figueroa, secretary treasurer of Local 32BJ, said the union has met with a Con Ed vice president to discuss this issue.

"He told us that he was 'very sorry,' but that because these workers were not their employees, he didn't think this was Con Ed's problem," said Figueroa.

"But it isn't just a matter of legal obligation; there is also a moral obligation. What Con Ed is doing by not assuming responsibility is promoting hunger wages."

A BIG PART of the problem, Figueroa said, is that contrary to what happens in other states, in New York utilities are exempt from any prevailing wage laws. The union, he said, is asking legislators to reconsider.

Clearly, the unions and the workers are not asking for anything out of the ordinary. They just want to be fairly compensated for their work, to have sick days and health insurance for themselves and their families, as well as paid vacations.

They also are asking Con Edison, a company that makes millions every year, to use its considerable leverage with the contractors it hires.

"We are only asking for what should be rightly ours," Cruz said.

aruiz@nydailynews.com