Exclusive: Faulty Plows Eyed as Problem in Blizzard Cleanup

Sanitation memo tells workers to readjust plows

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    NEWSLETTERS

    George Reid
    ---------- Forwarded message ---------- From: "George Reid" Date: Dec 27, 2010 3:00 PM Subject: Plow being towed in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn To: Even the plow doesn't stand a chance. George Reid Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

    An equipment glitch may have caused scores of Sanitation Department plows to fail during last week's blizzard, sources said.

    The Sanitation Department has ordered field units to readjust their plowing equipment, as new concerns mount over machinery purchased last winter, sources said Monday.

    While the new equipment performed well early last year, it but may have been overwhelmed by the massive amounts of snow that fell during this past storm.

    When these plows hit a big snow mount or sewer cap, it triggers a tripping mechanism, which could explain why so many plows were left stranded in the snow instead of digging out side streets, sources said.  It also could explain why some Sanitation workers were spotted riding around with their plows raised, a sight that infuriated snowed-in New Yorkers.

    A January 2 memo from DSNY Equipment Chief Anthony Marino obtained by NBCNewYork includes diagrams, showing Sanitation workers how to readjust the plates on their plows today.  A Sanitation spokesman could not immediately explain whether the so-called "trunion plates" were being used in the wrong position.

    Whether or not equipment failures played a role, New Yorkers are still demanding answers about a rumored work slowdown by disgruntled Sanitation supervisors.

    An investigation is underway and Sanitation managers are being brought in for questioning.  Senior DSNY sources tell NBCNewYork that nobody has admitted to a labor slowdown so far, but it's "likely certain supervisors were making trouble causing scattered slowdowns."

    Still, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Sanitation boss insist there were no across the board sickouts or slowdowns.

    "It was not that," said Mayor Bloomberg.

    Commissioner John Doherty added "I never got the sense there was any type of slowdown."

    Sanitation officials confirmed Monday that about 800 workers were "out sick" for last Monday morning's shift, Dec. 27th -- about 200 more absences than usual.

    The Sanitation commissioner says he attributed the high sick numbers to the fact that many workers simply could not get to work because of the snow.

    Sources tell NBCNewYork that some sanitation workers reported to work at locations close to their homes instead of their assigned locations, and were sent home.

    One supervisor tells NBCNewYork "Management told them 'go sick or take an emergency day' instead of just putting them to work.  Now does that make sense?"

    The investigation will hopefully determine if there was a labor slowdown.  But some skeptics wonder how City officials could have been oblivious to it, if true, and why Bloomberg would have taken days of heat from an angry city when he could have blamed the labor unions.

    Political strategist Dan Gerstein speculated that Bloomberg might have been afraid of pointing the finger at the union because perhaps there was some larger mismanagement by his administration that could come back to haunt him.

    "Either that or it's third-term-itis," Gerstein said.

    Sanitation sources say they hope to reveal the preliminary findings of their investigation at a City Council hearing on January 10th.