Plans to pay private snow-plow and tow-truck operators to be available during major snowstorms—even if they are not put to work—could be setting New York up for another City Time type scandal, claimed Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitation Workers Association.
“The private plows will be used to haul snow from dead-end streets and other side roads when six inches or more of snow is forecast,” the Sanitation Department said Aug. 8 in an announcement that it was seeking competitive bids. “They will be paid a ‘stand-by’ fee even if their services are ultimately not needed due to lighter snowfall.”
Questions on Payment.
Companies interested in becoming city contractors are asked to bid on a plowing fee (in two-mile increments) and on a stand-by fee. Operators of private plows hired after the Dec. 26, 2010 blizzard were paid $190 an hour, according to the Daily News.
“It’s a waste of money,” Mr. Nespoli said of the plan. He said of the contractors: “There’s no supervision. They’re supposed to supervise themselves, which is a joke. During the blizzard, they were doing private jobs on the side at the same time they were working for the city.”
In an interview last week, Mr. Nespoli said the union will keep a close eye during snowstorms on how the private contractors operate.
“I see trouble for the city. I see another City Time here,” he said, referring to the troubled electronic-time-keeping project in which Federal prosecutors said private consultants overbilled the city, bilking it of $600 million. “Will the city know who’s working for them? Are they going to do background checks on the contractors? City workers have to go through a complete investigation before they’re hired.”
Sanitation Department officials said in an e-mail that the bid solicitations warn contractors they can be assessed for damages if they are found to be serving other clients when they are supposed to be working for the city. They could also lose the entire annual stand-by fee, the department said.
‘What Are They Hiding?’
Mr. Nespoli also criticized the city’s reticence to discuss the costs of the program, noting that the contractors will receive pay just for being available and additional money if they actually work. “What are they hiding?” he asked, questioning whether it would be cheaper just to hire more Sanitation Workers.
The Sanitation Department recently announced it was hiring 300 new Sanitation Workers and would have them trained and on the streets by mid-December, at the start of the snow season. City officials and Mr. Nespoli said this would bring the number of Sanitation Workers who can be called on to clear the streets slightly above the 6,000 number that is considered sufficient to handle major storms.
During last year’s blizzard the city had 5,800 Sanitation Workers, and Mr. Nespoli said he told City Hall that wasn’t enough. In the past, he said, the department had as many as 6,600 workers to throw at storms. It took nearly a week to plow sections of the city clear after the blizzard, when the usual time is 36 hours.
The Sanitation Department sought to hire private plows and tow trucks after that storm, but had relatively few takers. Many had already been hired to clear airports, private hospitals and other facilities.
The hiring of private contractors was part of a plan developed by Mayor Bloomberg—and supplemented by the City Council—to address problems city agencies had dealing with the blizzard. Those failures were worsened by the fact that Mr. Bloomberg was out of town until after the snow began falling and no one was in charge of coordinating the agencies’ efforts. After initially suggesting that snowed in New Yorkers should stop complaining and see a Broadway show, Mr. Bloomberg said he had received inadequate information about the effect of the storm and the progress of plowing. He apologized for the city’s performance and, for reasons that were never made clear, fired the head of the Emergency Medical Service.
The city has issued two opportunities for contractors, one for plowing services in 37 of the city’s 59 community districts and the other for snow-hauling and tow-truck services in all seven Sanitation Districts. The proposals say the stand by fee is paid to the contractor “to compensate it for foregoing other business opportunities to enable it to commit its equipment and resources exclusively” to the city. On any forecast of a storm that will drop 6 inches or more of snow, the contractor must be prepared to start plowing within eight hours of notification by the Sanitation Department.
The announcements specify that private contractors must have a designated supervisor who is reachable by the Sanitation Department.
Stranded Car Gridlock.
The tow trucks are meant to supplement city efforts to move stranded vehicles that are blocking the plows. Last year the city did not declare a snow emergency, meaning thousands of drivers got in their vehicles, became stuck in the snow and abandoned their cars in the middle of the streets.
In the Sanitation Department announcement, Commissioner John J. Doherty was quoted as explaining the need for private contractors. “Historically, it’s been difficult to get hired equipment on board for severe snow and ice storms,” he said. “But the department is proactively looking for contractors with specialized equipment…to assist us with tertiary streets during major snowstorms so they can be cleared in a timely manner.”
Mr. Nespoli agreed that that even though the new hiring would bring the force of Sanitation Workers to 6,100, the department still might need private contractors to supplement city workers. Skeetlebutt