NYC Mayor Bloomberg botches blizzard cleanup, scapegoats sanitation workers
Published Jan 8, 2011 8:09 AM
A powerful storm system dumped heavy snow from the Carolinas to Canada on the
U.S. East Coast during 36 hours starting Dec. 26. New York and the rest of the
Northeast took the brunt of the blizzard, with snowfall totals measuring from
20 to 32 inches. The follow-up to this storm has raised the stakes as Wall
Street and the banks are on the attack against unionized public service workers
and insist on eliminating jobs.
New York City’s regular army to battle snowstorms, the city’s
stalwart sanitation worker corps, worked for more than a week in 12- to 14-hour
shifts to plow and clear away the snow and in the new year is attacking the
monumental task of removing one week’s backlog of uncollected
Despite this heroic effort from the sanitation workers, reckless decisions by
Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s administration disrupted normal snow removal
operations, making his failed response top national news for much of the
holiday week. Several New Yorkers died when ambulances failed to get through
snow-covered streets. Mass transit was slow to nonexistent.
Hit by mass criticism, the Bloomberg administration tried to deflect anger by
treating workers battling the snow like Public Enemy Number One. During the
height of the storm crisis, right-wing Republican anti-labor NYC Councilperson
Dan Halloran and the right-wing, anti-labor New York Post distributed an
unproven allegation that a worker “slowdown” had impeded the snow
removal operations. Other media repeated this slander.
For Wall Street, Bloomberg and New York State’s new governor, Andrew
Cuomo, attacking sanitation workers fits their campaign against all unionized
public sector workers. With the city and state debt-ridden, before banks will
buy municipal and state bonds they demand cuts in the public sector workforce,
and they are holding the public at large hostage to the cuts in the social
Sanitation workers union leader Harry Nespoli answered this attack. He
explained that the workers’ own families and children depended on
sanitation services just as the rest of the city does. He said his union
members would never do anything to jeopardize public health and safety. During
the 54 years of struggle of Teamsters Local 831, including strikes and
slowdowns, there have never been slowdowns during a snowstorm.
It is not known widely that medical experts rate the job of sanitation worker
as the second most dangerous job in the U.S., just below lumberjacks, and more
dangerous than police — who get much government and media attention
— and even firefighters. Just five days before the storm, Angel Roldan
became the 11th sanitation worker killed on the job since 2003. Eight others
died in work-related accidents and three suffered heart attacks while
performing their extremely physically taxing and stressful assigned
How Bloomberg, Goldsmith messed up
Last April 30, Bloomberg appointed Stephen Goldsmith as NYC deputy mayor for
operations, who thus directly supervises the Department of Sanitation
commissioner. The department chose not to replace the 400 sanitation workers it
lost in the past year. Instead, on Oct. 21, six days after the official start
of the snow season, the city announced it was implementing Goldsmith’s
plan to demote 100 sanitation supervisors to sanitation workers.
This left the city’s snow removal work force at 75 percent of its size in
1996, when there was a huge blizzard that was cleaned up effectively. The cuts
and demotions also lowered department morale, countering the department’s
tradition of promoting the most dedicated and hardworking sanitation workers to
supervise those on the job they know so well.
Unlike in 1996 and unlike other Northeastern cities this year, New York City
refused to declare a snow emergency as it can after more than three inches of
snow fall. On the first day of the 1996 storm, all city buses and nonessential
vehicles were banned from city streets, so they would not get stuck in the snow
and impede snow removal operations. When Goldsmith was Republican mayor of
Indianapolis during a January 1994 blizzard, he had also refused to declare a
In Indianapolis, Goldsmith built a reputation as a “reinventor” of
government, laying off many city workers and privatizing every city service he
could. Goldsmith left Indianapolis to become chief domestic policy advisor to
President George W. Bush in the 2000 campaign and later was special adviser to
the Bush administration, which catastrophically failed to handle the Hurricane
Katrina emergency in New Orleans in 2005.
To add insult to injury, on the first day of the storm, Mike Bloomberg,
Goldsmith’s boss, advised New Yorkers to take public transportation to
see a Broadway show. Workers at the Sanitation Department compared this to
Marie Antoinette suggesting with regard to the starving people of France:
“Let them eat cake.”
The Metropolitan Transit Authority also refused to declare its highest
emergency alert. This would have meant sending subway cars back and forth
across the tracks specifically to clear them of ice and snow. It would also
have provided a diesel train at every depot to tow in extra subway cars as
Instead of keeping the trains running, the MTA raised transit fares on Dec. 31
for weekly and monthly metro cards. New Yorkers will also be greatly
inconvenienced and endangered by the drastic cuts in NYC bus and subway service
made by the MTA since the last blizzard.
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