The president of the civil-service mechanics union said Dec. 3 that 10 percent of the Department of Sanitation’s salt-spreaders were out of commission at one point or another during the previous day’s snow.
Joe Colangelo, the head of Service Employees International Union Local 246, told this newspaper in October the city was not prepared to handle a major snowstorm because it was short on mechanics and overly reliant on outside contractors, who lacked the experience to handle the city’s specialized equipment.
‘Lug Nuts Were Loose’
“We had a salt-spreader tire come off in Queens and it damaged the front rotor and brake caliper. And it had been outsourced,” Mr. Colangelo said during a phone interview. “When the mechanic checked the tires on the other side, the lug nuts were loose as well.”
He estimated that based on reporting from the field, 70 of the 700 salt-spreaders that were deployed had issues.
“I have been warning about this and explaining that maintaining this kind of specialized equipment is not the kind of thing you can sub out to a regular auto mechanic,” he said. “This isn’t a Chevrolet that anybody can work on. It takes years to learn this equipment.”
He said that he knew of at least three instances where an outside vendor failed to properly adjust the conveyor-belt chain on a salt-spreader. “So, when they went out to spread salt, the chains jumped the sprocket and destroyed the conveyor chains.
“This was nothing, it was a dusting,” Mr. Colangelo continued. “Can you imagine what could have happened if we had been hit with a serious storm?”
‘Why is City Outsourcing?’
“Mr. Colangelo is frustrated because he saw it coming and predicted it,” said Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association. “The equipment that was sent out just didn’t hold up. Why is this administration still outsourcing this work? There is nothing better than a civil servant who takes pride in their work and we know will be there to be held accountable.”
“Workers who maintain our city fleet have been sounding the alarm for months, and if you double the number of snow removal and other maintenance vehicles, you have to hire more mechanics,” said Vincent Alvarez, New York City Central Labor Council AFL-CIO president. “It’s just simple math and common sense.”
He continued, “We need to stop investing in outsourcing to private vendors and re-invest in the trained and qualified city mechanics before the next storm.”
The Department of Sanitation did not dispute Mr. Colangelo’s statistics but said its workforce had done “a fantastic job” in dealing with a storm that turned out to be less severe than predicted.
“We kept city streets clear of ice and snow throughout the entire storm, thanks to our salt-spreader fleet—705 salt spreaders total—which were out in full force, treating city streets,” the department said in a statement.
‘Worked 12-Hour Shifts’
The agency said it had more than “550 auto mechanics, who worked 12-hour shifts during yesterday’s storm and handled any mechanical issue within our fleet. It is not unusual for some vehicles from our more-than 2,500 snow-fighting vehicles, which traverse 6,500 miles of city streets, to go down while battling snow and icy conditions.”
According to the agency, it has “577 staff in auto mechanic titles and similar titles” and recently hired 27 mechanics, with an additional 10 vacancies slated to be filled.
Mr. Colangelo said the agency was still understaffed considering that the size of its snow fleet has nearly doubled over the last few years.
In Fiscal Year 2013, the city’s snow fleet had 549 pieces of equipment. Four years later, it had 1,037 pieces.
Compounding the problem, the union leader said, was a decision made during the Bloomberg administration to have the Department of Citywide Administrative Services consolidate other agencies’ motor fleets, including the Department of Parks and the Department of Education, into Sanitation’s.
Mechanics Didn’t Keep Up
“In 2011, the City of New York consolidation moved 1,134 vehicles” from several agencies “but only increased manpower by 30 auto mechanics,” according to a power point that Mr. Colangelo shared with city managers.
As a consequence, the Sanitation Department found itself with close to 8,000 vehicles of every shape and size, but only 548 auto-tradespeople working to service and maintain them.
“If we use the industry standard of one mechanic per seven vehicles, and you take into consideration just how sophisticated some of the hydraulics and computers are in some of these pieces of equipment, you need closer to 1,000 mechanics,” Mr. Colangelo said. “And we are not two-thirds there. We are barely half.”
“The City of New York has the cleanest and safest vehicle fleet in the country thanks to its dedicated mechanics, auto-service workers, and fleet personnel,” DCAS said in a statement. “The city employs more vehicle maintenance staff today than when Mayor de Blasio took office in 2014, and this has resulted in over 90% of fleet vehicles being in service and ready to use each day.”
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