GREENWICH VILLAGE — Con Edison spends millions of dollars a year paying outsourced workers to stand on city streets to reserve parking spots wherever the utility needs to do construction — acting as human shields against drivers trying to park, DNAinfo New York has learned.
Dozens of parking assistants from No Parking Today, a private company that works chiefly with Con Ed, but has also assisted National Grid, and a host of television and movie companies, stand at work sites around the city each week, manning lines of bright orange traffic cones in the street.
Con Ed shelled out more than $2.7 million for the services of "coneheads" — as they're known among Con Ed employees — between January and June 2012, according to the state's Public Service Commission, which oversees public utility companies. From July 2012 through June 2013, Con Ed paid the company close to $430,000, also for "contract labor," according to the PSC.
“That’s the only guaranteed way to maintain access,” said Al Jackson, who does emergency calls for Con Ed. “We put up signs, we put up poles, we put up stanchions — people move them. They park at the risk of their own health, life and property.”
Keeno Campbell, 31, of Brooklyn, has worked for No Parking Today for almost two years, putting in about 30 hours a week and earning between $9 and $13 an hour.
Last Thursday, he sat in his parked car in front of 420 16th St., where he said a "cable job" would occur the next day.
He said the shifts are simple: Stay in front of the cones and make sure that no one parks there. During the winter months, Campbell spends his shifts in his car.
"I watch DVDs. I've got my DVD player here; I've got my walkman ready," said Campbell, who identifies himself to would-be parkers as a "Con Ed Emergency Worker" with a hard hat and yellow emergency vest to match.
When asked how often people try to disregard him and park where the cones are, he answered: "Almost every time."
"Certain people, they're just not listening. I can't do anything other than tell them: 'Con Ed's gonna tow you,'" he added.
Con Ed spokesman Robert McGee confirmed that it contracts with No Parking Today, but did not respond to further questions.
Officials in several cities with some of the most expensive parking in North America — though New York’s is far and away the priciest — said they’d never paid for people to reserve parking for their utilities crews.
Public works agencies in Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Calgary said their cities put up barricades and post signs forbidding parking in advance where work will need to get done. None hire people to stake out a site for shifts.
“It’d be a really good job creator,” said Rachel Gordon, a spokeswoman for San Francisco Public Works.
Clayton Thomas, who founded and runs No Parking Today, said the work fluctuates week by week, but typically includes about 80 “parking assistants” supervising cones at about as many work sites each week.
The company receives $24 per hour from Con Ed, down from $29 per hour about two years ago, when there was less competition for the contracts, Thomas said. He added that No Parking Today has received fewer billings from Con Ed recently because more companies have started doing similar work.
To work with the company, contractors have to have a car to get to the work sites. And all the workers get their own set of cones provided to the parking assistants.
“We always give people a chance to go home and tell their family they got a job,” Thomas said.
Jeffrey Jones, a parking assistant who worked with the company for six months, explained that a worker's cones are their "tools." When one assistant relieves another of their post, that person sets down their own cones.
His advice for prospective parking assistants is that they get out of their cars so they don’t fall asleep. Assistants who doze may wake to find their cones gone and cars parked in their place.
“Got to be very vigilant to make sure nobody steals the cones,” Jones said.
Con Edison workers, who know that people try to make off with the cones, will sometimes ask if he needs extras when they arrive at a work site, he said.
“They got so many cones,” he said.
Nigel Chiwaya contributed reporting.