SCANNER GETS BACK OF THE HAND: Sanitary concerns raised by unions since the CityTime palm-scanner replaced the old punch-card timekeeping system a decade ago finally hit home with the coronavirus pandemic, leading it to be taken out of service for the foreseeable future.

The coronavirus pandemic presents unprecedented challenges to city commissioners and middle managers who must maintain vital services while adjusting work rules to keep workers safe, guided by public-health information that's in constant flux.

They then must adjust as needed and communicate the changes to a city workforce of more than 300,000 people.

In some cases, it is up to the unions to push back if they believe the realignment based on new facts on the ground puts their members or the public at risk.

Palm-Scanner Gets Thumb

Even something as basic as logging into and out of work has been subject to dramatic changes.

On March 15, the de Blasio administration directed workers to no longer use the CityTime biometric palm-scanner that records their comings and goings  "out of an abundance of caution."

The palm-scanner showed up on the job during the Bloomberg administration and soon became the source of scandal. Implemented with the belief that some city workers were gaming the punch-card system to cheat their employers out of thousands of dollars, it would up costing the city hundreds of millions of dollars before a new City Comptroller, John C. Liu, exposed the chicanery that ballooned the cost of the system from an initial $63-million contract into a $700-million scam.

The system had been resisted by municipal unions, particularly District Council 37, whose executive director, Henry Garrido, last week reacted to its being shelved by saying in a statement, "At the time of its introduction, I spoke out against their use because of the health risk that I believed it posed to our workers. Unfortunately, it took the most-deadly viral outbreak in our lifetime to convince the city to do the right thing."

A veteran Department of Transportation employee, speaking conditioned on anonymity, said, "We always questioned the cleanliness of that machine from the first day it was put in the shop. They tried to tell us the light inside it was 'germ-killing,' but you had to lay your bare right hand flat on the screen to make sure all the contact points registered your palm. After a couple of years of that, the bottle of hand sanitizer showed up."

'Listen to Common Sense'

Joseph Colangelo, the president of Service Employees International Union Local 246, which represents auto mechanics, said in a phone interiew, "I would hope after this experience with the coronavirus, the city would finally listen to common sense and stop using it." 

The day before the city announced the suspension of the palm-scanner, the New York Post reported that "amid the outbreak, some workers are balking at placing their palms on scanners used by dozens of colleagues as they log into and out of shifts."

Mr. Colangelo said that the top level of city government understood the occupational-health implications of the pandemic for the union workforce.

"But some of these middle managers on this stuff is an entirely another matter," he said.

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