The right-wing media falsely reported that Alabama-based utility companies were turned away in New Jersey for hurricane disaster relief because they use non-union labor. However, multiple Alabama utility companies mentioned in these media reports say the claims are “rumors” and simply “not true,” and New Jersey utility companies have also denied that non-union working crews have been turned away.
Local Alabama news station WAFF was quoted in multiple right-wing news reports after it claimed that three utility crews from Alabama were not allowed to help with storm aid in New Jersey because they were non-union. Predictably, Fox News picked up the report almost immediately. During the November 2 edition of Fox & Friends, the hosts asserted that non-union crews were not allowed to help in New Jersey hurricane relief, and frequent guest Charles Payne added that this is “one of the more despicable aspects of what we are seeing” :
Following this report, Drudge linked to other right-wing websites making similar claims under the headlines “Non-union crews turned away from NJ...” and "'No Red Tape'?":
Later on Fox, host Gretchen Carlson issued a minor update explaining that many of their viewers had in fact seen Alabama crews working in New Jersey.
WAFF, the source of the original reports, has since updated its post about these claims. It continues to report claims from an Alabama-based Decatur Utilities employee that his crew was presented with documents by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) that required union affiliation in order to provide disaster relief. However, WAFF clarifies that Decatur Utilities' general manager said crews “were not turned away but were made to believe that affiliating with the union was a requirement to work.”
The station also points out that IBEW President Ed Hill addressed Decatur Utilities claims saying, “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.” Moreover, the two other utility companies involved, Huntsville Utilities and Joe Wheeler EMC, have denied such claims as well:
Huntsville Utilities said they were not turned away and are up in storm ravaged areas working.
Joe Wheeler EMC said they did not respond to New Jersey, but did go up to Maryland and headed home once they were done.
Furthermore, AL.com, a blog for multiple Alabama newspapers, quoted a representative from Huntsville Utilities saying they currently have employees in New Jersey helping with Hurricane Sandy relief and had no issues with union workers. A spokesman for Joe Wheeler EMC also denied rumors, saying they are “not true” :
The general manager of the other department mentioned, Decatur Utilities, has been unavailable for comment this morning. One of its crew members was quoted in the initial reports.
Decatur Mayor Don Stanford said this morning he was unaware of the story and had no comment.
Bill Yell, spokesman for Huntsville Utilities, said nine of his employees are currently helping with recovery from Hurricane Sandy and had no union-related issues.
“That's a rumor,” he said. “We are starting work this morning with Long Island Power Authority. We were headed to a New Jersey utility but they had all the crews they could handle.”
A spokeswoman for Joe Wheeler Electrical Membership Cooperative said the crews from Trinity also are assisting with storm recovery and, in fact, are unionized.
“It is not true for us,” she said. “I don't know how we got lumped in there (in that report). We sent eight guys to Maryland, not New Jersey. They have been there since before the storm but they've finished work and are headed home this morning.”
NorthJersey.com further noted that New Jersey utility companies were accepting all offers of help, regardless of union status:
Non-union crews should not be concerned about coming to New Jersey to help bolster the efforts of New Jersey utility companies, officials said today.
“We are accepting any available resource,” said Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for PSE&G.
“We are working with our union and have non union crews participating in our restoration efforts,” said Ron Morano, a spokesman for JCP&L. “We continue to accept support from out of state utility companies and contractors.”