January 5, 2011 / 9:56 PM / 9 years ago

Federal investigation underway on NY snow cleanup

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal investigation is underway to determine if sanitation workers were deliberately slow in removing snow from last week’s massive blizzard, officials said on Wednesday.

Snow is seen as pedestrians wait for a bus along Fifth Avenue in New York December 29, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Sources in the office of the U.S. Attorney for New York and a city councilman who has been pressing the issue confirmed an investigation has begun.

The city faces mounting complaints about its response to the December 26 blizzard that pummeled New York and nearby regions.

City Councilman Dan Halloran says a group of sanitation workers confessed to him they were told by supervisors to purposely slack off in cleaning up the snow.

Halloran told Reuters on Wednesday he is pleased federal investigators are handling the matter.

“We’re not sure if this was widespread or simply a few individuals that were involved,” he said.

“Either way, we know some of the work was not done and there’s plenty of video and photographic evidence out there showing things not getting done.”

The city’s sanitation supervisors union said they welcomed the federal investigation. Union secretary treasurer Glenn Ferber said sanitation workers have been unfairly scrutinized for how they handled the cleanup.

“I’m certain the investigation is going to prove that this snowstorm turned out to be a comedy of errors that had nothing to do with the department,” Ferber said.

Halloran told Reuters last week he was informed sanitation supervisors gave the slowdown orders to protest the city’s plans to demote 100 of them and other budget cuts.

Ferber said he is not aware of any deliberate acts of sanitation slowdown in the storm. But many of these allegations have been taken out of context, he said.

“I don’t know this for a fact, but if I was a supervisor out in the street and I see a big snowstorm coming down, I’m telling my sanitation workers to do the best they can. If they skip a block, don’t worry about it and keep the truck rolling. I could even see myself saying that.”

Halloran emphasized no acts of criminal wrongdoing have been confirmed but he can understand why these slowdown allegations merit a federal investigation.

“The U.S. Attorney’s office is probably looking at payroll and labor records. If you’re an employee of a municipality, you accept a paycheck and you’re not performing the work you’re supposed to do, that can be considered theft and a labor violation.”

Both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty have publicly called for investigations into the alleged slowdown.

Prosecutors in Brooklyn and Queens have launched investigations of their own. The Brooklyn prosecutor’s office said Wednesday their investigation was prompted by a YouTube video that showed sanitation workers hanging out for hours at a doughnut shop when they should have been cleaning up snow.

Another piece of footage being criticized shows a sanitation worker sleeping inside of a truck while on the job.

Ferber said he doesn’t know if these two instances are true but again said allegations like these are probably taken out of context.

“If I’m in a truck for 14 hours and the truck broke down and I got the heat going, I don’t think I’ll be staying awake the whole time either,” he said.

Editing by Jerry Norton

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