Amid Sandy’s devastation, Long Island union sent written demand to Florida utilities: Pay dues or stay home

David Martosko Executive Editor
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In a two-page Oct. 29 contract, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) local 1049 demanded union dues, pay hikes and benefit contributions from Florida electric utilities before its workers would be permitted to help reconnect power to Long Island communities. The demand came as Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the Northeastern United States, stranding tens of millions without electricity.

The “Letter of Assent,” which The Daily Caller obtained from the Florida Municipal Electric Association, demanded 11 separate financial commitments from municipal power companies and electrical cooperatives in the Sunshine State. The agreement, for any utility that decided to sign it, would have been in force from Oct. 29 to Nov. 29.

Barry Moline, the association’s executive director, told TheDC that by Nov. 1 the union, based in the central Long Island town of Hauppauge, had relented and stopped insisting that nonunion crews pay dues and other union fees.

“The union director” himself placed a phone call to withdraw the letter, Moline said during a telephone interview Saturday. But that came only after Moline had notified a national trade group, the American Public Power Association, which turned outrage into action.

IBEW letter to Florida utilities after Hurricane Sandy

The Florida Municipal Electric Association is a statewide trade group that represents 34 separate utility companies. The letter, Moline said, was sent to Florida’s nonunion power companies.

“We had crews ready to go on Monday when the storm hit,” he told TheDC.  “We had dozens of line workers ready to go. There have been hundreds of line workers who have been told, ‘We don’t want you unless you’re part of the union.’ And as a result, people in New York and New Jersey are having the power turned on slower than everywhere else.”

“The word we were getting all week was that New York was short by hundreds of [electric] linemen,” he told TheDC. “Well, okay. We’ve got them. Florida is two days away, so you need a head start.”

Of those workers who were ready to drive north, he said, “probably about 25 stayed put” because of the Long Island IBEW local’s demands. “Another 35 were delayed by five days.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Friday that he wouldn’t permit discrimination against nonunion crews eager to help reconnect consumers who have gone without power for days. He threatened to invoke his office’s emergency powers if necessary. (RELATED: Christie threatens “Disaster Control Act” order to guarantee nonunion utility workers can help restore NJ power)

But in New York, no government official has stepped in to ensure that utility crews from other states won’t have to show their union membership cards before going to work — even though their own employers are paying for them to repair power lines in the Empire State.

Eventually, Moline said, his state’s crews “went everywhere else” affected by Sandy, “but it was only in New York where the union had to give their blessing.”

“It just made me sick that you’ve got people who have no power,” he said, “and you hear about a lot of people dying.”

On Saturday TheDC requested comments from New York State Public Service Commissioner James Larocca and spokespersons for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, State Labor Commissioner Peter Rivera and New York City May0r Michael Bloomberg.

Only one of those persons responded and asked for a copy of the letter. He would not answer questions on the record about whether government agencies could have exercised — or did exercise — emergency powers to clear the way for nonunion power crews who wanted to assist.

N.Y. Energy Law 5-117 addresses the governor’s special powers “during [an] energy or fuel emergency,” but those powers are limited to fuel and energy allocation, stopping wasteful energy uses, and temporarily waiving environmental laws.

TheDC also emailed Don Daley Jr., IBEW local 1049’s business manager and financial secretary, for comment. Daley’s name appeared on the “Letter of Assent” emailed to the Florida utilities, as the person who would sign on the union’s behalf.

He did not respond to questions about whether his union is using a natural disaster to grow its membership and collect revenue.

Claims similar to Florida’s have come in from Alabama and Georgia since the superstorm hit, but this report marks the first time documentary evidence has been presented to the public. (RELATED: Ga. power crew turned away from Sandy-stricken NY for refusing to join union)

The letter received by Florida utilities demanded that they pay IBEW member dues, provide workers with union-scale wages plus overtime, and allow crews to observe the “normal working hours” dictated by the IBEW’s contract.

It also required the companies to pay fixed percentages of every worker’s hourly wage into seven separate union-controlled funds, including a $9.75 per work-hour payment to the IBEW’s health care plan and 22.5 cents for every dollar of salary into its pension fund.

TheDC calculated that for a nonunion crew foreman normally earning $40 per hour in Florida, the mandated higher wages plus union contributions and dues would force a utility to pay $67.74 per hour for each worker completing power restoration tasks in New York.

For work performed on weekends or after 4:00 p.m. on weekdays, that overall rate would jump to $70.38.

On Saturday TheDC reported that a Florida utility crewman said his employer idled workers while a much longer union contract document went through legal review earlier in the week.

An IBEW spokesman told TheDC on Friday that “the IBEW did not send the documents, nor did any of our locals.”

But he didn’t reply when asked if he had communicated with all 273 locals in the union districts where Sandy’s impact was felt. Those include 20 IBEW locals in New Jersey, 48 in New York, 10 in Connecticut and 52 in Pennsylvania.

It’s now clear that at least one of those 48 New York locals — no. 1049 on long Island — did make membership demands as a condition of Florida utilities coming north to help restore electricity.

The name of the letter’s electronic file was “letter of assent E  No  Car GENERIC,” suggesting that it may have been drafted first for North Carolina utilities. So far, no utilities from that state have come forward to say they were approached by IBEW local 1049.

Moline said some power utilities in Florida are unionized and others are not. That decision should be approached thoughtfully and deliberately, he explained. “We’re not going to be held hostage.”

“I’m not anti-union,” he insisted. “I think unions are fine. I was just surprised to find that in the middle of an emergency that the union would stand in the way.”

“I didn’t know how the Long Island Power Authority was putting up with it,” he said. “The union was saying, ‘No, you have to join us first.'”

“I thought, ‘Is this really happening?'”

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