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Union Chief Calls for 400 More Sanitation Workers

February 14, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco

A city snow plow on the job in Brooklyn this week.
A city snow plow on the job in Brooklyn this week.

New York, NY – Forget about continuing to shell out big bucks to unreliable private snow plowers who often use makeshift equipment in an attempt to clear neighborhood streets, the head of the city’s Sanitation union says that the new mayor needs to hire 400 additional municipal workers to adequately handle the kind of wintry slop that hit the city this week – and some on the City Council already agree with him. 

“The way our winters have been going, we definitely need more manpower,” Harry Nespoli told LaborPress on the eve of the latest storm to sock the five boroughs. 

The Department of Sanitation’s workforce stands at 6200 after being whittled down to some 5700 during the previous administration. But the City of New York still pays private snow plowers a reported $125,000 per storm – in addition to an annual standby fee totaling another $275,000. 

The head of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association calls that a “rip-off.”

“During these last few storms, we were doing the tertiary streets before the privates even came in,” Nespoli said. “We got in there and did it. And yet, these guys are getting extra money even if it doesn’t snow. And they’re still getting money if they do come in. The city’s taxpayers are losing millions of dollars.”

On February 24, at 1 p.m., the New York City Council Committee on Sanitation and Waste Management is slated to convene a special hearing on agency policy and planning for the next four years. 

Councilman Andy King [D-District 12], is a member of that body, and says that after seeing how his Bronx constituents have fared this winter, the city, indeed, needs to expand its municipal workforce of trained and dedicated individuals committed to making sure snow removal is done “the right way.”

“I totally concur with President Nespoli,” Councilman King added. “I’d like to see a larger trained workforce so we don’t always have to hire out.”

Nespoli argues that most of the private snow plowers that presently hold contracts with the City of New York, are actually based outside the five boroughs, and often use converted cement trucks and the like to clear snow. 

“We took photos of the streets these guys [supposedly] did – and it was like they never did it,” Nespoli said.

The Sanitation union head also maintains that the city, too, needs to upgrade its existing fleet of snow plows, while simultaneously moving to smaller and more nimble salt spreaders better able to get at swamped street corners and inaccessible bus stops. 

“During Hurricane Sandy, we ran those trucks 24-hours a day,” Nespoli said. “Those trucks are burned out now. They’ve gotten burned out before their time. The previous administration had a crazy idea of not replacing trucks. Eventually, this is all going to catch up on the City of New York.”

Fortunately, the Department of Sanitation’s workforce is in better shape than its trucks. According to Nespoli, about half the municipal workers charged with picking up the city’s trash and keeping its streets clean and accessible, are relatively young with a decade or less on the job. 

Still, with many working 12-hour shifts, the leader of the Sanitation union insists that the department’s ranks must now be bolstered with more municipal workers. 

“My workforce is tired,” Nespoli continued. “Everybody thinks that the people who plow aren’t the same people that pick up the garbage and recyclables. But it’s the same people. When they’re done clearing the streets, they have to go back out there and pick up the garbage and recycling that wasn’t serviced.”

Councilman King pledged to have the issue of hiring 400 additional municipal workers brought up for discussion  during the February 24 Committee on Sanitation and Waste Management hearing.

“It needs to be addressed,” Councilman King concluded. 

A municipal worker gives the thumbs up during NYC's latest snow storm.
A municipal worker gives the thumbs up during NYC’s latest snow storm.

Beyond clearing mountains of snow and ice throughout the winter so that working men and women can successfully commute between home and work every day, Nespoli stressed that hiring 400 additional municipal workers means that the city will be able to better maintain its streets – thereby making them more attractive to tourists dollars – all year long. 

“If this town gets filthy, you’re going to lose a lot of revenue,” Nespoli concluded. “I don’t know why they would nickel-and-dime for 400 more people.”

According to the union leader, Mayor de Blasio’s administration could have 400 additional municipal workers cleaning the streets by next June. 

Hiring additional municipal workers could also provide more women with an opportunity to join the Department of Sanitation. Of the present 6200-member workforce, about 180 are women. 

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