Officials: Rumors of union interference in power restoration are ludicrous

Kevin Wilson, 43, from NSTAR out of Boston checks the attachments on a de-energized line on Devon State Road, Friday February 7, 2014. (David Swanson / Staff Photographer)

Ludicrous is how union official Jason Acree describes rumors that unions are forcing PECO to turn away non-union crews brought in from out of town to help restore power after this week's ice storm.

“With a restoration like this, no one is denied, union or non-union,” he said. “You have qualified people working, whether they are union or non-union.”

Acree presides over Local 126 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Collegeville. He and his business agentd dispatch union linemen and ground crews through a hiring hall when power companies need more help than their regular employees can provide.  He said he and fellow union officials have been putting in 16-hour days “trying to get as many people as possible working.”

 Acree wonders if the rumors stem, somehow, from groups who want unions to look bad.

 But the logic is missing. After all, he said, many union members and their families who live in this area are also without power and eager to have it restored.

PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez said whether an out-of-town work crew is union or not is completely immaterial. "We go through the utility mutual assistance organization," she said, and it's all hands on deck trying to get any available qualified help into the area, into the system and through a quick training course on the peculiarities of PECO's network. PECO's staff also needs to line up hotels and meals for the 2,600 visiting crew members. She said she heard the same rumors, but just from other reporters calling to check them out.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 614 represents PECO employees. Emil Meyer, the president and business manager, also dismissed the rumor. If there were any union officials that would be putting the pressure on PECO, Meyer said, "I'm the guy and I'm not putting any pressure on PECO. People are freezing. When we have an all-hands storm like this, it's about neighbors. It's about getting the lights on."

By the way, these same rumors circulated during Sandy.