NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York’s mayor and governor are calling for an investigation of allegations that as a protest against budget cuts sanitation workers were purposely slow in removing snow from this week’s massive blizzard.
“We’re going to do an investigation to make sure that it didn’t happen,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Thursday. “It would be an outrage if it took place, but I just don’t know.”
The city faces mounting complaints about its response to Sunday night’s massive blizzard that pummeled New York and nearby regions.
City Councilman Dan Halloran has said a group of sanitation workers confessed to him on Wednesday they were told by their supervisors to purposely slack off in cleaning up the snow.
The supervisors were protesting the city’s plans to demote 100 of them next week, and other budget cuts, Halloran said. The slacking off “would send a message to the mayor,” he said.
“They (sanitation workers) were told they should take their time,” Halloran told Reuters.
“If they missed a street, don’t worry about it. It would be okay because no one would be on top of them.”
During a radio interview on Thursday, outgoing Gov. David Paterson brought up the allegations and said: “I just think the whole thing is outrageous if it’s actually true.”
A deliberate slowdown should be deemed as criminal behavior, he said. “There are examples (in the blizzard) of people whose lives were threatened severely when they tried to leave the vicinity they were in.”
City Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said he’d investigate the allegations.
“Any allegation against the department, we have to examine and we have to look at it,” he said. “But as of now, I can’t confirm that and I have no reason to.”
Halloran said three sanitation workers and two supervisors in the city’s Department of Transportation came to him on Wednesday, each mentioning the intentional slowdown.
He said it took 3-4 days to clean up snow in the city from Sunday’s blizzard while the cleanup was faster from a larger storm last year.
“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “The storm last year had a higher snowfall accumulation and we had no idea it was coming. Within 24 hours, all of the primary and secondary streets were cleaned up.”
Halloran added that during Sunday’s storm, 400 sanitation workers called in sick and another 100 called in for emergency leave. That kind of behavior is unusual because “Most of these guys want the overtime,” he said.
If an investigation reveals workers were in fact deliberately slowing down cleanup efforts, Halloran said he would push for disciplinary hearings that could result in termination.
Sanitation workers union officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Editing by Jerry Norton