Ala. utility, Fla. crewman blame electricians’ union for interfering with Hurricane Sandy relief

David Martosko Executive Editor
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A New Jersey power company denied Friday that it is turning away nonunion volunteer crews who want to travel great distances to help reconnect power supplies severed by Hurricane Sandy. But an Alabama utility is clarifying that it was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers [IBEW] — not the company — that turned them away.

And a Central Florida utility worker told The Daily Caller that he and his crewmates are still waiting for the union to back down before they could go to Long Island.

Jersey Central Power & Light spokesman Ron Morano told Cablevision’s News12 on Friday that his company has accepted help from all crews. “We have not turned away any help,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

And IBEW International President Ed Hill said in a statement to The Daily Caller that “in times of crisis all help is welcome and we pull together with everyone to meet the needs of the public. We have communicated this to the office of New Jersey Governor Christie as well.”

But Decatur Utilities in Decatur, Ala. told Huntsville’s WAFF-TV Thursday evening that its crews were denied the opportunity to work in Seaside Heights, N.J. because they’re not affiliated with a union. Some of those workers, the company said, headed home. Others remained at a staging area in Roanoke, Va.

And on Friday the company doubled down, with general manager Ray Hardin telling Fox Business Network’s Stuart Varney that “we were presented with documents from IBEW that required our folks to affiliate with the union. And [that’s] something that we could not agree to. And it was our understanding, and still is, that that was a requirement of working in that area.”

A Central Florida utility lineman who insisted on remaining anonymous told TheDC in a phone interview Friday that his 12-person crew waited “all day yesterday” for their bosses to sort through the IBEW’s demands.

“It was like, ‘What’s the hold up?’ he said. “It turns out there was a 300-page contract that the union controlling LIPA [the Long Island Power Authority] wanted everybody to sign first. We don’t have time for that. We’ve got guys ready to go. You need lawyers for this.”

“Get this,” he added: “Because we’re not union [members] — their pay scale is about $47 per hour while ours is about $35 — the union’s problem was that we didn’t make enough money and that my company supposedly had to pay us union scale to participate.”

“We were like, ‘We’re not complaining about money. You can pay us less. We don’t care. Just let us go up there. Two days later, we’re still sitting here.”

“I don’t care if you pay me $5 an hour right now,” the utility worker said. “Would you let us go up there and help? This is bull! We’re good at what we do. Let us do it. This isn’t about money. It’s about helping people who need help.” (RELATED: New Jersey utility denies turning away nonunion electric crew volunteers from Alabama)

“We’ve gone through this with hurricanes in Florida. We don’t turn people away because they’re unionized or not. This is such crap. Let’s get people connected again, and then you union guys can go back to playing this silly game. And that’s what it is — a goddamned game.”

WAFF-TV has not retracted the Thursday story about Decatur Utilities, which sparked the controversy. Two other utilities mentioned in its report, however, said Friday that they had different experiences.

A Huntsville Utilities spokesman told the Mobile Press-Register that some of his employees are on Long Island helping with recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

“We are starting work this morning with Long Island Power Authority,” he told the newspaper. “We were headed to a New Jersey utility but they had all the crews they could handle.”

And a spokeswoman for the Joe Wheeler Electrical Membership Co-op said his crews are already unionized.

“We sent eight guys to Maryland, not New Jersey,” he said. “They have been there since before the storm but they’ve finished work and are headed home this morning.”

The International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers is a unit of the politically powerful AFL-CIO.

Many parts of coastal New Jersey are projected to be without electric power for at least seven to 10 more days.

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