A week after Hurricane Irene hit the eastern coast of the U.S., we drove back to New Jersey from a family reunion in Mississippi. Our seeing caravans of utility trucks from Illinois and Texas was encouraging. We whispered a word of thanks and appreciation for other states helping their northern neighbors, and gave the drivers a thumb’s up.
When we returned home near Exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike and drove around checking on homes in my neighborhood, we saw a tree worker and asked what was happening.
He said he was waiting for the power company to take care of a hot wire before they could cut downed trees. I commented that I had heard from my daughter that some utility workers from Alabama had been turned away because they were not union.
“You’re damn right,” came a voice from inside the truck cab. “They should have been turned away,” he continued. “They’re trying to take our jobs.”
“But this is an emergency, a natural disaster,” I returned. “People need help.”
“Don’t care,” said the first tree man. “We have the highest rates in the country, and they want to take our jobs.”
I decided to end the conversation and merely said, “Good luck.” I quickly rolled up the window and we drove off.
Later, in calling some of the older residents to let them know the Red Cross was bringing hot lunches to our clubhouse, one woman had a similar story. Her son had come from Colorado with a caravan of utility workers and they, too, were turned away and called “scabs” because they were non-union.
“What’s wrong with this picture?” I asked friends and myself. “What has this country come to when the union sanctity is more important than helping people left with no homes, no power, no food and no place to go?”
Perhaps the answer came when the day ended with the re-election of President Obama –– thanks to unions and other folks looking for government support rather than help and care from neighbors, known and unknown.