Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

A utility worker speaks on the Hurricane Sandy disaster

By David Hungerford

Newark, NJ – Hurricane Sandy struck the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area with full fury on Oct. 30. The region is the country’s largest and densest concentration of population. Sandy was the worst storm to hit it in recorded history.

Up to 5 million people lost some or all of their electrical power, telephone service and internet service that evening. Wall Street in lower Manhattan was under water for a while. That was the only good thing about the storm. A severe gasoline shortage developed in the next few days. Lines at service stations were miles long at the worst of it.

As of this writing, Nov.9, large numbers of people are still affected. Many must still endure dark, cold houses, lack of refrigeration and elevator service, the inability to cook food or refrigerate medicines, and so on.

One reason it is taking so long is layoffs of utilities workers. The only reason for the layoffs was to cut costs and make more profits. Fight Back! asked someone who works for a major utility if this was one of the reasons for the delays. “Definitely,” he said, “if it wasn’t for that we wouldn’t be in this position.”

He said his employer laid 356 workers off in April and shifted the workload to those remaining. He has been working twelve hours a day seven days a week. “I haven’t seen my kids in two weeks,” he said.

The company plans to lay off even more workers. He said the job of anybody hired since 2003 is in jeopardy. “They want to get rid of people and work the other fellas to the bone. I am working slave hours, sunup to sundown, seven days a week. It’s slavery except we are getting paid. The whole plan is to work us until it’s done. It’s murderous. The money is good but nobody wants to die. You could fall out of the [crane] bucket and get killed.”

He compared the situation to miners in South Africa who are kept underground so long they lose touch with their children. “Maybe I can get to see my kids for 15 minutes in February,” he said.

“This is all to get maximum profit. [The company] made $6 billion dollars last year and still laid people off.” He was very critical of his union contract, noting that the workers lost benefits. “The union guys tell us they couldn’t get anything better, but the truth is they don’t want to fight.” He also said the company took FEMA money to make repairs but instead used it to put new installations, which normally would be its own expense.

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