Did Big Apple public unions stage a slowdown on snow removal?

posted at 11:15 am on December 30, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

So says the New York Post, based on one elected official as a source, speaking for a few alleged whistleblowers.  Purportedly, the Snow Slow came in response to belt-tightening by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and was meant to send a message: We’re in charge:

Selfish Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts — a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles, The Post has learned.

Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island still remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, several sources and a city lawmaker said, which was over a raft of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.

“They sent a message to the rest of the city that these particular labor issues are more important,” said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens), who was visited yesterday by a group of guilt-ridden sanitation workers who confessed the shameless plot.

Independently, the Post quotes other sources who claim that snow removal workers may not be conspiring to send a message, but they aren’t exactly motivated, either.  One way that they claim to be gumming up snow removal is to stick only to streets explicitly assigned to them, and keeping the shovels high on their plows to necessitate repeated plowing — and extra overtime.  Others claim that the drivers are deliberately “smashing plows” to slow down the work and keep the city frozen in place.

I’m a little skeptical, but mainly because the primary source for the conspiracy theory is an elected official who can expect to be held accountable for the poor performance thus far in the Big Apple.  Also, the Twin Cities had the same level of snowfall a few weeks ago, and snow removal was a problem for us, too.  Minneapolis/St Paul and the first-ring suburbs have a large amount of infrastructure to deal with heavy snowfalls and about a fifth of the population, and we still have huge piles of snow blocking sidewalks downtown.  Heck, we can’t even get the Metrodome fixed; now, the estimate for repair and reinflation is the end of March.  I’m not sure that NYC could have done better, with its relatively smaller snow-removal infrastructure, lack of places to put the snow, and population density.

Is it possible that this was a coordinated slowdown effort by public-sector unions to make Bloomberg and city officials look incompetent?  Sure, but the simpler answers are usually closer to the truth.  The simpler answers here are that this was freakishly heavy snowfall in a city not used to such things, and, well, it has a mayor more interested in salt use in restaurants than on the roads.

Besides, some enthusiasm for the work can be seen in this WCBS video from earlier in the week.  Workers wanted to get a stuck plow back into operation so badly that they wrecked a car  to do it.  No worries, though, because the car’s owner works for … the city:

On the street in Brooklyn Heights a sanitation crew ignored residents’ cries as they struggled to pull out one of its snow removal vehicles from the snow, CBS 2-TV reports.

The outraged wife of the destroyed vehicle’s owner, who didn’t want to be identified because her husband works for the City that owns the damaged vehicle, told CBS 2 that it should never have happened.

“There should’ve been a City official here. There should’ve been a supervisor. This was unacceptable disregard for personal property,” she said.

Update: If it is true, then Aaron Worthing thinks that at least one charge of negligent homicide is in order.

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