By Scott DiSavino
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Locked out workers resumed negotiations with Consolidated Edison on Thursday while replacement crews worked to end additional brownouts as New York City sweltered in a prolonged heat wave.
Con Edison said it reduced the voltage by 5 percent in several Brooklyn neighborhoods Wednesday night as a precaution to protect the system and maintain service as crews fix equipment problems, the company said in a statement.
On Thursday afternoon, the company expanded the voltage reductions to several other Brooklyn neighborhoods to reduce the strain on the grid as crews work on equipment problems in those additional communities.
High temperatures in New York, the biggest metropolitan area in the United States, were expected to reach the 90s Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) through the end of the weekend, according to AccuWeather.com.
The latest series of voltage reductions was the first since the company locked out its 8,500-member unionized workers on Sunday after contract talks broke down.
The company and the union were talking again on Thursday in a negotiating session that started at about noon. Officials at the company and union could not say anything about the session since it was ongoing.
Con Edison said the voltage reductions had nothing to do with the lockout, noting the company had also reduced voltage during a heat wave in June, before the lockout started, after heavy air conditioning usage strained the grid in parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
The union, however, said the voltage reductions were a sign that Con Edison could not keep the system running without the union workers.
"This is what we have been saying all along, that the company would run into these problems when the weather heats up. They needed to reduce voltage because they could not keep the system up," John Melia, a union spokesman, said.
"This is an extremely dangerous situation for the people of New York," Melia said, noting that replacement workers were getting hurt due to a lack of experience.
The company said a couple of replacement workers had suffered minor burns, but noted the crews in the field were qualified to do the work.
"Many of the managers out in the field came up through the union and did the kind of work needed to maintain the system in the past," Con Edison spokeswoman Sara Banda told Reuters.
OK TO USE AIR CONDITIONER
So far, these voltage reductions were relatively minor.
The company did not ask the homes and businesses in the affected Brooklyn neighborhoods to take any special measures, noting it was O.K to use air conditioning and other appliances.
But the utility continued to ask all its 3.2 million customers in New York City and Westchester County to continue to conserve energy during the heat wave.
Customers don't lose power in a voltage reduction, but incandescent lights, hot water heaters and some motors are affected.
The company did not give details on the equipment repairs being conducted by crews, largely made up of Con Ed managers.
(Reporting By Scott DiSavino and Steve James; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and M.D. Golan)