New York, NY — IBT Local 831 President Harry Nespoli steered his members through a disastrous pandemic, providing critical leadership. Five in his union died and hundreds became ill with the virus, including Nespoli himself. LaborPress learned just some of how he managed
LP: What occupied you most during the pandemic in terms of member safety and related concerns?
HN: What occupied me the most was the help of the other members. That was the most “thing” in my mind. You got to remember that the Mayor makes the announcement, “Don’t come into New York.” But yet sanitation workers had to come to New York. So I made sure my building was cleaned on a regular basis. And I also made sure that I had enough masks, enough hand cleaner for them when they came in. And then I turned around, and I split my force in half in the union as far as I had them come in – the administrators who work for the union – come in on Monday, the other half come in on a Tuesday. So [then] what I did was, I went to the department, the department sat down with me, which was great to negotiate, 7000 workers – that was the biggest thing. And the biggest thing was that we honestly felt that, after discussions, during the summertime, we always try to keep the least amount of people on nights as possible. But this summer we’re having them all come in on the same shift, [it] was dangerous. Because they will be talking to each other, they will be doing this and that. They will be sitting down before they went out to work. They’d be sitting down after work. What we did was, we came up – and actually, it was management’s idea to keep them working three separate shifts. They worked from 6 to 2 in the morning. We had some of the other guys come in from 4 to 12. And 12 to 8. Which really eliminated a lot of contacts…And again, I got on management, they had masks, they had cleaners, cleaning in the garages. We had some people that turned around and were wiping down the locker rooms, our people, just before they went out. So sometimes they would wipe down their own truck. Make sure they’re going out as clean as possible. And we got through it and I think that that kind of saved us in the number of people that we lost [to COVID].
LP: What do you consider the biggest victories in how you and the union coped with the pandemic?
HN: I think that the greatest accomplishments, were the union and management sitting down together and discussing the best way to serve the people in New York City…Management knows that the Governor told us “Oh, no, you’re essential workers but you can’t have the vaccination yet.” Why? [They’re] telling everybody else to stay home, but we have to come in. But we accomplished the service for the public during this whole [pandemic]… There were a lot of other agencies that fell behind on what they had to do. But we kept up with that. Could you imagine if when they shut down New York, and then all of a sudden pick up of sanitation stopped?… We went out there and we did what we had to do. We’re city workers, we work for the people in New York City. We did our job. Yes, we lost some members, I think everybody lost some members, but we took the job we got to do what’s best. We got through that terrible time.
The city workers realize this. You got to go to work. You got to do your job. The police had to come to work. The nurses, the firemen, the paramedics, these are people, like sanitation, that stood up and came to answer the bell.