Politics

Christie threatens ‘Disaster Control Act’ order to guarantee nonunion utility workers can help restore NJ power

David Martosko Executive Editor

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie bristled at reports Friday that an electricians’ union stood in the way of some utility workers who wanted to help restore power to victims of Hurricane Sandy. He would use his emergency-management powers, he said, to guarantee that nonunion crews could help restore his state’s electricity grid without interference.

“I’ve been on the phone with PSE&G [Public Service Electric and Gas Company], JCP&L [Jersey Central Power & Light] and the union, and they’ve all absolutely promised me they would never turn away a single worker whether they were union or nonunion, and I wouldn’t allow it,” Christie told reporters shortly after 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon.

“I would invoke my powers under the Disaster Control Act to prevent that from happening, but they’ve assured me we don’t have to.” (RELATED: NJ utility denies turning away nonunion electric crew volunteers from Ala.).

But a spokesman for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t reply to emails asking whether his boss would take a similar hard line. A spokeswoman for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo similarly didn’t return phone calls asking the same question.

Christie said Friday that “there was one incident of this in Seaside Heights” since Superstorm Sandy hit.

“First of all, the workers never came to New Jersey, okay? They weren’t turned away when they got here. They heard that New Jersey was a union state, coming from Alabama. When they stopped in Virginia, they called to see what they would do and they were given bad information.”

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Christie said his state’s major utilities and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) “have all said they do not have that requirement.”

The Daily Caller had published a report more than an hour earlier about electric utility crews from central Florida that idled for two days instead of working on Long Island, while their managers dealt with the union’s demands.

“It turns out there was a 300-page contract that the union controlling LIPA [the Long Island Power Authority] wanted everybody to sign first,” the crewman told TheDC. “We don’t have time for that. We’ve got guys ready to go. You need lawyers for this.” (RELATED: Ala. utility, Fla. crewman blame electricians’ union for interfering with Hurricane Sandy relief)

An IBEW spokesman told TheDC on Friday that “the IBEW did not send the documents” like those the Florida crew’s managers described, “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.

A few hours after Christie spoke, TheDC reported on another case — this one involving an electric co-operative in Georgia  whose workers were turned away from New York because they weren’t union members.

Glenn Cunningham, a business continuity coordinator with Diverse Power in LaGrange, Georgia, said during a phone interview that his company’s crews had already helped restore power lines in Maryland when they decided to drive further north to New York. (RELATED: Ga. power crew turned away from Sandy-stricken NY for refusing to join union)
“When they got up there,” he said, “it was, ‘out come the union papers.’ And our guys were like, ‘Hey, we’re not joining nothing. We came up to help, but if you don’t want it, that’s fine.’ So they turned around and drove all the way back here to Georgia.”

Neither of those cases involved New Jersey, but Christie threatened to invoke the authority he holds under New Jersey law if it became necessary. The state’s Civilian Defense and Disaster Control Act gives the governor broad power to control “utility repair squads” and other volunteer agencies in times of crisis.

Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts told TheDC that both “union and nonunion crews” are “at work right now in New Jersey, restoring power.”

He said he believed those nonunion crews included some from outside New Jersey, but conceded he “would need to confirm that.”

Roberts reiterated Christie’s vow to bring utility companies to heel if nonunion workers weren’t welcomed into the Garden State. But he stopped short of saying the governor would apply the same level of aggressiveness to the IBEW.

“It would be absolutely premature for me to talk about what the governor would or wouldn’t do” in the absence of more proof, Roberts told TheDC.

“We’re always open to evaluating new information.”

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