Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pay Dues or Stay Home Amid Sandy's devastation, Long Island electricians' union sent written ultimatum to Florida utilities

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.
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.”

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