NYC Investigation Provides More Evidence That Allegation Of Union Snow-Removal "Slowdown" Was Bogus

››› ››› SEAN EASTER

After a blizzard struck New York City last year, right-wing media were quick to smear unions, using a bogus allegation that a planned union slowdown delayed cleanup efforts. Even then, New York City officials took responsibility for the slow response. Now, a report by the New York City Department Of Investigation says that the source of the slowdown claim "contributed no actual evidence about a possible slowdown."

Report: Source Of Allegation Provided "No Actual Evidence" Of Slowdown

Report: Story Began With New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran. From the New York City Department Of Investigation's report on the slowdown allegations:

During the days following the December 26th blizzard, Councilman Daniel Halloran alleged in the newspapers and on television that DSNY personnel had staged and executed a slowdown. His allegations about a slowdown became a City, national and international story; investigations and hearings ensued. [Investigation Into Allegations Of Possible Slowdown By Department Of Sanitation During Blizzard Of December 2010, 6/11]

Report: "In Toto, Mr. Halloran's Information About City Employee Statements Contributed No Actual Evidence About A Possible Slowdown." From the report:

During the days following the December 26th blizzard, Councilman Daniel Halloran alleged in the newspapers and on television that DSNY personnel had staged and executed a slowdown. His allegations about a slowdown became a City, national and international story; investigations and hearings ensued. However, the statements given to DOI by Mr. Halloran were strongly disputed by the two DOT personnel Mr. Halloran said he spoke with about a slowdown, and Mr. Halloran asserted attorney-client privilege as to three other workers he said he spoke with from DSNY. In toto, Mr. Halloran's information about City employee statements contributed no actual evidence about a possible slowdown. [Investigation Into Allegations Of Possible Slowdown By Department Of Sanitation During Blizzard Of December 2010, 6/11]

Right-Wing Media Dubiously Blamed Unions For Slow NYC Blizzard Response

NY Post: "Sanitation Department's Slow Snow Cleanup Was A Budget Protest." On December 30, an article in the New York Post stated that City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens) claimed he had been visited by sanitation workers who claimed their supervisors ordered them to deliberately "snarl the blizzard cleanup" in order "to protest budget cuts." From the article, "Sanitation Department's Slow Snow Cleanup Was A Budget Protest":

These garbage men really stink.

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.

Halloran said he met with three plow workers from the Sanitation Department -- and two Department of Transportation supervisors who were on loan -- at his office after he was flooded with irate calls from constituents.

The snitches "didn't want to be identified because they were afraid of retaliation," Halloran said. "They were told [by supervisors] to take off routes [and] not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner. They were told to make the mayor pay for the layoffs, the reductions in rank for the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank-and-file." [New York Post, 12/30/10]

O'Reilly Aired Footage Of Halloran Alleging Union Misconduct, Praised NY Post Reporting. From the January 3 edition of The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: "Impact" segment tonight, the day after a Christmas blizzard here in New York dropped nearly two feet of snow on the nation's largest city causing mass chaos. Airports closed, streets were impassable. Despite tens of millions of dollars budgeted for snow removal, the system failed. But some say there was sabotage by the sanitation union.

HALLORAN (video clip): Sanitation workers that we spoke with said they were given instructions stating don't worry about missing streets. You're not going to be supervised. That it's not -- you don't have to worry about getting written up. We're not going to be on top of you. Take your time. If you miss a street, it's OK. I mean, these are things that ultimately cost the city millions of dollars.

O'REILLY: Now, the question: should the federal government step in when local governments collapse? Joining us now from Washington Fox News analysts Mary Katharine Ham and Juan Williams.

Juan, the crux of the matter is is that New York City has a huge budget shortfall. They're laying off union workers. They're cutting overtime. And then when this comes in, the allegations are -- and the New York Post, owned by the parent company of Fox News, News Corp., has done some fine reporting on this -- that a lot, some, a few -- you put it on, I don't know -- sanitation big shots said, "You know, 'F' you. We're not going to do anything. Take that."

And, in the meantime, people died because ambulances couldn't get through. There were almost near riots in some place. So did the federal government, Juan, have any responsibility to monitor this stuff? [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 1/3/11, via Nexis]

On Factor, Fox's Juan Williams Forwards Claim That "People Who Were To Plow The Snow Intentionally Were Snarling Traffic And Led To Deaths." From The O'Reilly Factor:

WILLIAMS: But, you know what, Bill? It was 10 percent of the sanitation people didn't show up, so forget even the charges which the New York Post says they have sources to confirm that some of the sanitation drivers, the people who were to plow the snow intentionally were snarling traffic and led to deaths. I'm talking about deaths of people who emergency vehicles couldn't reach. That, to me, is just outrageous.

But it's an evidence of the mindset of the unions. They feel entitled. They feel as if, you know what? You can't budget cut or lay people off in the public sector any more without feeling they are legitimate in punishing you, the mayor and the people of the city of New York. [The O'Reilly Factor, 1/3/11]

Fox News Hosted Halloran To Bash Workers. Fox News hosts provided an open platform for Halloran to blame unions for the city's blizzard response. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 12/30/10, Fox & Friends, 1/3/11]

FoxNews.com: "Union Workers Reportedly Staged Slowdown As New York City Battled Blizzard." An article on FoxNews.com, headlined "Union Workers Reportedly Staged Slowdown as New York City Battled Blizzard," began: "As New York City finishes cleaning up the mess of the recent debilitating blizzard, it also faces allegations that union workers entrusted with cleaning up the mess of snow decided to stage a slowdown as the blizzard hit." [FoxNews.com, 12/30/10]

Wash. Examiner: "NYC Snowdown Shows Public Employee Unions' Callousness." A January 2 Washington Examiner column by Mark Hemingway rehashing Halloran's allegations noted that several people died during the blizzard in New York City and went on to claim: "This episode makes clear a truth about unions that often goes unsaid: Demonstrating a callous indifference to human life is a hallmark of union negotiating tactics." From Hemingway's column:

So why weren't New York's streets cleaned up sooner? The day before Reynoso's ordeal [in which a three-month-old infant died], the New York Post reported city sanitation workers visited the office of City Councilman Dan Halloran, of Queens, and confessed to deliberately hampering the snow removal effort.

"They were told [by supervisors] to take off routes [and] not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner. They were told to make the mayor pay for the layoffs, the reductions in rank for the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank-and-file," Halloran said.

In a city of 8 million people, surely union workers knew that staging a work slowdown during a major snowstorm meant they were risking lives. They did it anyway.

Not that New York sanitation workers have much to complain about regarding budget cuts. Some 300 Sanitation Department workers make more than $100,000 annually, and at least 180 retirees have pensions of $66,000.

This episode makes clear a truth about unions that often goes unsaid: Demonstrating a callous indifference to human life is a hallmark of union negotiating tactics. [Washington Examiner, 1/2/11]

Shortly After Storm, Bloomberg, Sanitation Commissioner Dismissed Slowdown Claims And Took Blame For Mistakes

NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sanitation Commissioner Doherty "Dismissed Widespread Speculation Of A Slowdown." A December 30 article in the New York Times reported:

Mr. Bloomberg said he was still unsure of the reasons behind the delays in cleanup and again promised there would be a "thorough review." But he and the sanitation commissioner, John J. Doherty, dismissed widespread speculation of a slowdown by plowing crews upset about cutbacks in their department.

"As of now, I can't confirm that, and I have no reason to," Mr. Doherty said, standing next to the mayor in a recreation center in South Jamaica, Queens. [The New York Times, 12/30/10]

Bloomberg And Doherty Took Responsibility, Acknowledged Mistakes. Shortly after the storm, both Bloomberg and Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty took blame for the city's failure to clean up the snow quickly. A December 31 AP article noted the mayor eventually said he was "accountable" for the problems, stating:

Bloomberg -- a media mogul who has built a reputation as an able manager, adept at cutting through bureaucracy -- defended the city's response to the blizzard earlier in the week but adopted a more conciliatory tone over the past few days as complaints of stuck ambulances and unplowed streets mounted.

"The response to the snowstorm was inadequate and unacceptable," he conceded Thursday. "Nobody is satisfied. We're accountable. I'm accountable."

[...]

The storm struck on Sunday in a city that has been planning to slash spending. But the mayor said: "The budget had nothing to do with this. We thought we had an adequate number of people, an adequate amount of equipment and the right training." [Associated Press, 12/31/10]

A December 29 New York Times article noted that Doherty acknowledged that many mistakes were made and personally took the blame for not requesting help sooner. From the article:

"I could stand here and list maybe 10 or 12 items and say this is what my problem was or that's what my problem was," John J. Doherty, the sanitation commissioner, said at a news conference with Mr. Bloomberg. "The mayor has pointed out there will be a postmortem on this storm. I'm not here to make excuses right now."

[...]

The problem [of a lack of outside help], he said, rested largely with him. He said he might have taken too long to make the first calls for private help. He said he had become too consumed with deploying thousands of his own workers.

"Why did we wait so long?" he asked. "Well, maybe that is something we have to look at, no questions about it." [The New York Times, 12/29/10]

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