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Decatur Utilities’ headquarters (Photo: Al Whitaker, WHNT News 19)

DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) – Utility crews from all over the nation are helping with power restoration efforts in the northeast.  Decatur Utilities sent a six-man crew to assist earlier this week, but the crew came home a day later.

There have been a number of reports circulating about why the crew turned around.  WHNT News 19 has been working to get to the bottom of this matter.

The Decatur Utilities workers left Decatur on Wednesday, October 31, bound for Seaside Heights, New Jersey.  They arrived at a staging area in Virginia to wait for an assignment. 

DU General Manager Ray Hardin spoke about the matter at a news conference Friday afternoon.  Some reports had circulated, claiming our local utility crews were turned away.  The IBEW, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers denies that.   Hardin also confirmed his crews were not turned away.

Hardin said his office received a 31-page document which implied a requirement of his employees to agree to union affiliation while working in New York and New Jersey.  Earlier, it was thought that document came from IBEW.  IBEW denied that, and Friday afternoon, Hardin clarified the paperwork came from Electric Cities of Alabama

ECA is a coalition of Alabama’s municipally owned electric utilities.  Several north Alabama cities are members, including Huntsville, Hartselle, Athens, Florence, Fort Payne, Guntersville and others.

Hardin said the ECA sent the document to his offices for planning purposes.  The ECA said Decatur Utilities might encounter this, because New Jersey is a heavy union state.

Decatur Utilities looked at the document, and Hardin said it indicated his workers would have to sign to become union members and pay union dues.  But again, that was not the case.

“IBEW local leaders in New Jersey have reiterated what has been the long standing record of our union – in times of crisis all help is welcome and we pull together with everyone to meet the needs of the public,” IBEW President Ed Hill said in a statement Friday. 

“Our members and others are working side by side to help people in New Jersey and all affected states get their power back and recover from the effects of the storm,” Hill went on to say.  “The IBEW will continue to give it our all, working with anyone who shares our commitment to safety and service to ensure relief for the people of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.”

Communication was also poor due to lack of cell phone service.  Because of this, Decatur Utilities decided to pull its crews back.

“It was and remains our understanding that agreeing to those requirements was a condition of being allowed to work in those areas,” Decatur Utilities said in a news release issued Friday morning.  “As we waited for clarification, we became aware that Seaside Heights had received the assistance they needed from other sources.  To be clear, at no time were our crews ‘turned away’ from the utility in Seaside Heights.”

Decatur Utilities said it tried to contact other areas that needed assistance.

“However, based on the uncertainty of union requirements that we could not agree to and the uncertainty of whether a resolution could be reached, we ultimately made the decision to return them to Decatur after being stalled in the Virginia area most of the day on Thursday,” the news release read.