By a New York City Sanitation Department Worker
On top of sanitation workers laboring 12-hour workdays and seven-day workweeks, needed nonstop to clean up the city after Hurricane Sandy, one of the workers’ biggest problems is the difficulty of obtaining fuel to get to work. According to the president of the sanitation workers’ union, Harry Nespoli: “They want to work but they have to have gas. People are saying that they’re not going to give gas to Sanitation Workers. That’s a total disgrace.” (thechiefleader.com, Nov. 9)
In the aftermath of the storm, gas stations hit by shortages and long lines of customers are also often closing at night, the only time sanitation workers can access them after long shifts.
Sanitation workers who live in the Rockaways, Coney Island, Red Hook, Long Island, Staten Island and other hard-hit areas of the city have been staying in sanitation garages with no electricity and no heat since the storm began on Oct. 29. The job of sanitation workers has been transformed into one of cleaning up memories of New Yorkers’ homes destroyed perhaps forever — resembling the mission of rescue workers dispatched to a war-ravaged city.
Hurricane Sandy has caused sanitation workers many injuries, including from downed live electrical wires abutting uncollected debris. A co-worker of this reporter had to be hospitalized after stepping on a bed of nails immersed in a pile of debris. A year ago he had been injured when he was stuck by a half dozen hypodermic needles that had been deposited in a trash bag.
Racism compounds workers’ misery
One sanitation worker from Staten Island, Damian Moore, and his African-American spouse, Glenda Moore, suffered an unimaginable tragedy when their two sons, Connor, 4, and Brendan, 2, were swept from their mother’s arms by floodwaters. As she tried to escape in a sports utility vehicle to Brooklyn, she found she could no longer drive, so she got out to look for help. The children’s aunt said Moore banged on the door of a nearby house, but the occupants turned her away in a racist fashion, telling her, “I don’t know you. I’m not going to help you.” (nydailynews.com, Nov. 9)
The boys were found dead three days later. Three hundred sanitation workers were temporarily released from storm cleanup duties to attend the brothers’ Nov. 9 funeral.
Bad treatment of sanitation workers is not new in New York City. On Dec. 26, 2010, a powerful storm dumped 20 to 32 inches of heavy snow on the East Coast from the Carolinas to Canada over 36 hours. Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration sabotaged snow removal operations with bad decisions, such as ordering the department not to salt major streets and highways prior to the storm, as had been city policy for decades.
Several New Yorkers died when ambulances failed to get through the snow-covered streets. Mass transit was slow to nonexistent. Hit by heavy public criticism, the mayor’s office, along with much of the corporate-owned mass media, tried to deflect anger by treating the sanitation workers — who were heroically battling the snow — like Public Enemy Number One. Anti-labor politicians and racist tabloids spread an unproven allegation that a “worker slowdown” had impeded the snow removal operations. The City Council and the NYC Department of Investigation in June 2011 concluded that this allegation had been totally false.
Nespoli, also the chair of the Municipal Labor Committee representing more than 90 city worker unions, told this reporter that the thanks Bloomberg is showing sanitation workers — and about 200,000 other municipal workers — is offering all of us a huge pay cut, with two annual zero-percent raises and a huge increase in paycheck deductions for health insurance.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, whom my union now calls “The Prince of Darkness” because of his anti-labor policies, is threatening to repeal the Triborough Amendment. That, in return for the no-strike provisions of the Taylor Law, guarantees city workers our current wages and economic benefits when our contracts expire. In cahoots with Cuomo, Bloomberg has conveniently allowed all city worker contracts to expire. But city workers plan to fight this and all anti-union tactics.