An Alabama utility crew heading to New Jersey has returned home, claiming it had to affiliate with a union to help with the recovery effort after Superstorm Sandy. But union officials, a New Jersey utility company and the governor said Friday they are mistaken.
Ray Hardin, general manager of Decatur Utilities, said a six-member crew left Wednesday for Seaside Heights, N.J. It got as far as a staging are in Roanoke, Va., where it waited for clarification of documents from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He said the documents implied the non-union workers had to agree to union affiliation while working in New York and New Jersey.
"It was and remains our understanding that agreeing to those requirements was a condition of being allowed to work in those areas," he said Friday.
While waiting for clarification, Decatur Utilities learned Seaside Heights had received the assistance it needed. Decatur Utilities attempted to contact other areas that needed assistance, but decided Thursday to bring its crew home based on the uncertainty of union requirements, Hardin said.
IBEW spokesman Jim Spellane said he did not know what papers the crew was given, but "there appears to have been a misunderstanding."
He said the papers may have dealt with a requirement that crews are paid the prevailing wage in the area where they are working. In New Jersey, where electrical workers are heavily unionized, that wage is set by collective bargaining.
IBEW President Ed Hill said in Washington, "It is the policy of this union and the companies we represent to welcome assistance during major natural disasters — regardless of union status."
Ron Morano, a spokesman for Jersey Central Power & Light, which serves Seaside Heights, said non-union crews are helping restore power, and the union knows it is all hands on deck.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the Alabama crew got "bad information" and non-union crews are welcomed in the recovery effort.
Electric utilities in Alabama reported sending more than 600 employees to help restore power in states hit by Sandy.
Decatur Utilities later issued a statement on Friday that said: "To be clear, at no time were our crews 'turned away' from the utility in Seaside Heights."