New York, NY – The snowstorm that paralyzed New York this week struck just before 100 of the supervisors coordinating the city’s plowing fleet were to be demoted to lower-paying jobs in a budget-cutting move.
The timing of the demotions, scheduled for Jan. 1, ignited speculation that disgruntled sanitation department foremen had purposely sabotaged snow removal.
“I don’t think it took place, but we are going to do an investigation to make sure that it didn’t,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday.
Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said he was also concerned, but had seen no sign of a job action, just dedicated workers. The heads of the unions that represent sanitation supervisors and rank and file workers said the rumors were false and insulting.
The demotions would cost the supervisors about $5,000 in base pay and, combined with the elimination of another 100 similar positions through attrition, are supposed to save the city $20 million a year.
The Sanitation Officers Association, which represents about 1,000 supervisors, has been fighting the demotions in court.
Joseph Mannion, the union’s president, said the supervisory shake-up hurt snow removal.
Many positions for foremen have already been eliminated, he said, which meant fewer people available to coordinate the fleet.
Part of the city’s reorganizing plan had also been to use some of the savings in management costs to hire 100 new uniformed sanitation workers, meaning fewer people would be overseeing plows and more workers would be driving them.
Bloomberg dismissed the concerns Thursday.
“The budget had nothing to do with this,” he said. “We thought we had an adequate number of people, an adequate number of training and the right equipment.”
Mannion and Harry Nespoli, president of the Teamster’s local that represents sanitation workers including plow drivers, also denied a city councilman’s claims that sanitation workers’ bosses encouraged a slowdown.
Dan Halloran, a Republican council member from Queens, said no one was explicitly ordered to leave streets unplowed, but three sanitation workers told him that certain supervisors made it clear that workers who slacked off wouldn’t be punished.
“They were told, ‘If you miss streets, you’re not going to be written up,'” said Halloran. “‘You’re not going to get checked up on. Take your time.'”
Nespoli said his drivers wouldn’t follow an instruction to sandbag a job.
“If they are doing it over a radio, anybody, then it is recorded,” he said. “My members are out there working, and they are plowing.”