New Yorkers have been complaining about the slow response from city authorities to this week’s massive snowstorm, especially the poor condition of city streets. Blocked streets have been blamed for several deaths, including a baby born in the lobby of an apartment building, who died when emergency crews could not reach the scene.
In a major story on the aftermath of the storm, the New York Times lists “many theories,” expressed both in “shouts and whispers,” for the inadequate city response: the storm was worse than anyone expected, the Sanitation Department was weakened by staffing cuts, city residents acted foolishly by leaving their cars stranded in the streets, and Mayor Bloomberg failed to declare a snow emergency despite a rare blizzard warning – a decision he has tried to explain with the bizarre claim that it would have put more cars in the streets.
There’s one other possibility the Times is reluctant to discuss, but the rival NY Post is running as an exclusive: the sanitation union has been deliberately sabotaging snow removal efforts, because they’re angry about the aforementioned budget cuts, and were looking for revenge against Bloomberg.
The Post claims it has been told by “multiple Sanitation Department sources” that “angry plow drivers have only been clearing streets assigned to them even if that means they have to drive through snowed-in roads with their plows raised.” Plow blades are said to have been kept unusually high, requiring extra passes that result in slower snow removal, but more lucrative overtime pay. The Post also heard tales of mechanics tampering with plows and salt spreaders.
The sources asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation, but their story is backed by City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens), who says the action was intended to “send a message to the rest of the city” about the importance of labor’s dispute with the Bloomberg budget cuts – which include the demotion of a hundred department supervisors, with accompanying reductions in pay, set to begin tomorrow.
All of this is angrily denied by union officials, who admit to some hard feelings about Mayor Bloomberg, but call rumors of a job action “hogwash.” Union chairman Harry Nespoli told New York’s Fox News affiliate, “There is nothing to that [rumor.] I’m working very closely with the city. [Union sanitation workers] worked 14 hour shifts. They’re getting annoyed over the fact that people are thinking there is a job action.”
The response from the Mayor’s office was disturbingly muted, with the Post quoting a spokesman as saying only “We would hope this is not the case.” That’s a very thin brand of hogwash.
All sorts of investigations are set to begin next year, so the truth will hopefully come out. Bloomberg is under intense fire, and contemplating the ruins of a political career that he hoped to nurse into a third-party presidential run, only a few weeks ago. If the union story is true, he’s got a strong incentive to pursue it, to take some of the heat away from his office.
And if it’s true, it could be the beginning of the end of the union movement in the United States. It would be the story of the decade, provoking outrage across the country. New Yorkers are furious about the baffling failures of management that brought the city to a halt, causing a billion dollars in economic damage. Everyone knows about people dying from those snow-covered streets. If these incidents turn out to be negligent homicide, every union hall in America will be shaken by the aftershock. Let the fact-checking of the Post exclusive begin.