A Decatur Utilities crew left Alabama to help with storm recovery in New Jersey, but did not make the trip because of what they are now calling confusion over union paperwork.
The six-man crew staged in Virginia, but Decatur Utilities said they were never able to get in touch with officials or utility companies in New York or New Jersey. While the crew stood down in Virginia, Decatur Utilities officials claimed they received a union contract they thought they would have to agree to before helping storm victims.
General Manager Ray Hardin appeared on Fox Business Channel Friday morning saying, "We were presented documents from IBEW that required our folks to affiliate with the unions and that was something we could not agree to."
Decatur Utilities later released a statement expanding on that, "Upon arriving at a staging area in Virginia, crews were held in place pending clarification of documents received from IBEW that implied a requirement of our employees to agree to union affiliation while working in the New York and New Jersey areas. It was and remains our understanding that agreeing to those requirements was a condition of being allowed to work in those areas."
Late Friday at a press conference, Hardin said the documents actually came from Electric Cities of Alabama, a coalition of the state's municipally owned utilities.
Bottom line, it appears now that Decatur Utilities wrongly assumed they would have to agree to the union contract before traveling to New Jersey to help with recovery efforts. The IBEW said in times of crisis, help is welcomed from union and non-union utility workers.
Hardin said as they waited for confirmation on the documents, crews received word that Seaside Heights had received the assistance they needed from other sources.
"At this stage, it is not clear who is alleged to have turned the crew away and the company that employs the affected workers has denied the claim," said IBEW President Ed Hill in a statement. "IBEW local leaders in New Jersey have reiterated what has been the long standing record of our union – 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."
The crew from Decatur Utilities attempted to look for work in other areas, but Hardin said based on the uncertainty of other union requirements, they made the decision to return home after being stalled in Virginia most of the day Thursday.
Other utility crews from Alabama are still helping with storm cleanup. Huntsville Utilities said they were not turned away and are in Long Island, New York. Joe Wheeler EMC said they did not respond to New Jersey, but did travel to Maryland and headed home once they were finished.