Sunday, November 4, 2012

Truth as another storm-related casualty

As the recovery from Sandy began to wear on the nerves of the most affected in NJ, a story started making the rounds on the Fox News / Brietbart circuit saying that power-repair crews from Alabama were being turned away for not being union members or agreeing to affiliate with the unions up here.

Just in time for the upcoming election, this fired up a wave of resentment online for unions and everything union-related. Of course, a story like this would be salt in the wounds for the thousands sitting in the cold and dark, wondering if these crews would have made the difference between the lights being off and on for them. Journalists would make sure to fact-check a story like this to make sure that people weren't outraged without reason, and to prevent an unjustified backlash against the crews already at work restoring power.

But then I said this story was being pushed by Fox News, didn't I?

As you can guess by now, the reality is that no crews were turned away by anyone in NJ, and that the power utilities and unions here welcome any and all assistance in a crisis without preconditions.

The incident at the heart of this was a crew from Alabama being given paperwork that led them to believe they had to join or declare affinity with the electrical workers union in NJ before being allowed to help on site. The crew from Decatur traveled as far as Virginia before stopping to get clarification on the documents, and whether they would be allowed to work if they did not agree to union membership/affiliation. During that time other crews had responded at their intended destination in NJ, so they attempted to look for work in other areas. After being stalled in Virginia most of the day Thursday, they decided to return home. All that time, other crews from Alabama and utilities from across the country were showing up in the storm-damaged areas and helping to restore power.

Late Friday at a press conference, a representative of the Decatur crew's company said the documents triggering the confusion had actually come from Electric Cities of Alabama, a coalition of the state's municipally owned utilities.

To recap:

  • This was a story about one crew having logistical problems, not a blanket policy affecting all helpers. 
  • They never made it to NJ, and were never turned away by anyone. 
  • The papers leading to the confusion came from other electric utilities in Alabama, not unions in NJ. 

A representative of the utility held a press conference to confirm all of these points, and the video is here for all to see.

Even Fox put out a quiet correction stating that other Alabama crews are at work in in New Jersey, but the original story was still being being spread.

The reality is that there have been crews from all over, union AND non-union, working hard around the clock to get everyone back. This is difficult, often dangerous work being done by professionals - they deserve our thanks, and not to be held up as scapegoats for rumor-based political attacks.

MediaMatters has a good recap a good recap of the story behind the story, but if you don't consider them credible, take a look at the WAFF story, straight from Alabama.

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