Two veteran union leaders are sounding the alarm that the de Blasio administration does not have enough certified mechanics to ensure the Department of Sanitation snow fleet can handle a major snowstorm this winter.
Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, said in an Oct. 8 phone interview that Mayor de Blasio was in the same situation as Mayor Bloomberg before the botched December 2010 blizzard response that turned out to be a major embarrassment for his administration.
Plowed More With Less
“I spoke to Bloomberg that August and told him that we didn’t have enough manpower to protect the people in the city, and he turned around and he just said I had to do more with less,” Mr. Nespoli recalled. This year he said the critical gap involved qualified mechanics to keep sanitation vehicles in service.
“You could have all the salt in the world, and you could have the manpower we have, and we could do it. But if you don’t have the equipment, what are you going to do?” he asked during an Oct. 8 phone interview.
“I understand they are now sending our sanitation trucks out to private-sector mechanics and they are coming back in such a way that our guys have to work on those same trucks,” he said. “Whoever is in charge of this should be fired.”
The city maintains it is ready for winter.
“Last month, we began our snow training, which includes checking equipment, ‘plowing up’ collection trucks, and having our Sanitation Workers drive plows and salt-spreaders on set routes across the five boroughs,” Sanitation Department spokesman Vito Turso told the Daily News. “We have 290,000 tons of rock salt on hand, we have salt-spreaders that are being upgraded, and we have new salt-spreaders that will be ready to roll out in the coming weeks.”
Fleet Grew, Staff Lagged
According to Joe Colangelo, president of Service Employees International Union Local 246, which represents city automotive mechanics, auto service workers and related trades, the size of the snow fleet has nearly doubled over the last few years but the number of mechanics has failed to keep pace.
In Fiscal Year 2013, the city’s snow fleet had 549 pieces of equipment. Four years later, the city had 1,037 pieces of snow-related equipment.
Compounding the problem, the union leader said, was a decision made during the Bloomberg administration to have the Department of Citywide Administrative Services force a consolidation of several different agencies’ motor fleets, like the Department of Parks and the Department of Education, into Sanitation’s.
“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, with only 548 auto-tradespeople working to service and maintain them.
Short by 50%
“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.”
According to the administration, fewer city vehicles are out of service on any given day now than when the Mayor came into office in 2014, with the out-of-service vehicle rate dropping to 9.3 percent from 10.3 percent five years ago.
On Oct. 8 the AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council, which represent 300 unions and 1.3 million workers, passed a resolution supporting Local 246 and calling on the Mayor to hire more civil-service Auto Mechanics and curtail “the City’s attempts at privatization and outsourcing.”
Last December, Mr. Colangelo told this newspaper he was concerned that the Department of Citywide Administrative Services was trying to close the widening personnel gap by hiring more Auto Service Workers, who are not certified mechanics and have less experience.
Cutting Into Quality?
“Our staffing levels are not contractually set but based on what agencies believe they need, and I am concerned the imposition of something like this would create a real hardship on the agencies because they need trained and experienced auto mechanics,” he said then. “Some of the equipment we are working at runs into the hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. Ambulances are about $298,000 and there is fire apparatus that’s close to $900,000. Even your basic Department of Sanitation truck will run you $300,000.”
He continued, “To have this idea that we are going to have servicemen who have one or two years of experience and we are going to supplement the mechanic workforce with them is going to create a ripple effect on our ability to maintain and repair the fleet. To be an auto mechanic, you need five years of journeyman experience in the automotive trade to even qualify to take the test.”
The Automotive Mechanic base salary is $84,000, compared to $38,000 for the Auto Service Worker title. The Local 246 president said just 20 percent of the applicants pass the civil-service test for Auto Mechanic.
DCAS said then that the purpose of the program was “to help create a pipeline for automotive high school students into the City’s automotive service worker positions and to increase the number of automotive service worker opportunities in fleet.”
‘Way to Increase Diversity’
It continued, “In addition, DCAS revised the Civil Service title for automotive service worker to credit the City’s automotive high school degree as part of the experience requirement for the test. We have increased service workers used at agencies by 50 as part of this initiative so far.”
It called the program “a way to increase diversity in the City’s trades and automotive ranks and is part of DCAS’s focus on equity.”
According to DCAS, 70 percent of the Auto Service Workers are people of color, compared to 43 percent of those in the Auto Mechanic titles.
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