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Ala. utilities: Our crews not turned away from N.J.

NEW YORK Alabama power companies are denying a local TV station's report that linemen who had traveled to New Jersey from Alabama (a right to work state) to help restore power to those hit hard by Superstorm Sandy were told they could not work there because they were non-union.

The report by WAFF TV quotes a worker from Decatur Utilities saying he was told by crews in New Jersey they could not work there, after the utility receiving a call to assist in Seaside Heights, N.J.

The Decatur employee told WAFF that crews were told to stand down, and that linemen from Trinity, Ala.-based Joe Wheeler are already headed back home. Moore said they are frustrated being told, "Thanks, but no thanks."

However, Decatur Utilities, based in Decatur, Ala., denied the report.

In a press release issued Friday morning, Decatur Utilities said it had sent a six-man crew to the Northeast on Wednesday, bound for Seaside Heights, N.J.

"Communications with Seaside Heights was poor due to lack of cell phone service in the area," the statement said. "Upon arriving at a staging area in Virginia, crews were held in place pending clarification of documents received from IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) that implied a requirement of our employees to agree to union affiliation while working in the New York and New Jersey areas. It was and remains our understanding that agreeing to those requirements was a condition of being allowed to work in those areas.

"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.

"In connection with state and regional public power associations, Decatur Utilities attempted 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."

George Kitchens, GM and CEO of Joe Wheeler EMC - a union shop - told CBS News that the initial report that Joe Wheeler linemen had been turned away was "completely off-base."

Kitchens said eight linemen from Joe Wheeler were among 145 Alabama linemen who traveled to Maryland and Virginia in response to calls for help with repair efforts.

"They rode out the storm, and then did repair work there," Kitchens said. "Our people are on the way back home, [but] it's not from being turned away."

Huntsville Utilities also said their workers were not turned away and are working in storm-ravaged areas.

Utilities from other right-to-work states have also reported their crews working in New York and New Jersey, including repair crews with Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas assisting in New York State. Florida Power & Light sent more than 860 employees and contractors to assist seven utility companies from Virginia to New Jersey.

As customers in Maine and Massachusetts have regained power, utilities there have announced they are sending crews to other states still recovering from the storm.

Not all has gone well for utility workers responding to calls for help. On Monday morning police in Hagerstown, Md., said copper wire was stolen from five trucks of Pike Electric linemen who had traveled from Indiana and Ohio to assist in the recovery.

As of Friday morning power outages in the East stand at more than 3.8 million homes and businesses, down from a peak of 8.5 million. In New Jersey alone, Public Service Electric & Gas says 716,000 customers were still without power, down from about 1.4 million. Jersey Central Power & Light is reporting more than 711,000 customers still without power. Atlantic City Electric has more than 45,000 customers without power.

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