Several conservative media organizations -- including Fox News and the Drudge Report -- picked up a story from an Alabama TV station that crews from Huntsville Utilities and Joe Wheeler Electrical Membership Corp. weren't allowed to help with electrical service restoration in New Jersey because they don't belong to a union.
A third Alabama utility, Decatur Utilities, said its employees were asked to affiliate with a union before starting to work on the power restoration in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, AL.com reported.
Huntsville Utilities spokes Bill Yell said nine of his company's employees were working in New Jersey.
"That's a rumor," he said of the report that workers who traveled to New Jersey to help out were being turned away.
Joe Wheeler EMC said on its website reports that its workers were turned away from Hurricane Sandy relief efforts "are not true."
"Joe Wheeler EMC was never commissioned to go to New Jersey or New York," the company said. "Instead, JWEMC sent eight linemen to Denton, Maryland, to help out Choptank Electric Cooperative."
The statement said JWEMC crews were returning to Alabama from Maryland.
"Joe Wheeler EMC employees are members of The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers - Local 558 union," the company said. "Any reports that claim JWEMC is not unionized are false."
Yell and JWEMC spokeswoman Mandi Phillips told AL.com they have been swamped with media inquiries following reports of the matter on cable channels, including Fox News and CNN, as well as in several New Jersey newspapers.
Yell noted that in cases where crews are sent to other states to help in emergencies, "it's not a situation where everybody jumps in truck and heads up there. You have to work through trade associations. You have mutual-aid agreements and you've got to find a system that needs you and is able to take you."
He said not all electric systems use the same voltage and technical configurations.