President Joseph A. Colangelo
The last few months have been extremely challenging when it comes to the outsourcing of equipment to private repair shops. The fact that the Department of Sanitation has not only increased the number of vehicles it has outsourced to private shops for repair of snow equipment but has also sent out sanitation collection trucks for the first time has only served to exacerbate the situation.
These are troubling developments to say the least, but they have not just taken place overnight. In fact, they have been a long time in the making. Like all other catastrophes in the City of New York, this one did not start with a solitary event, but rather a combination of factors that brought us to the point we are at today. Fleet consolidation, reduced manpower, new repair reporting, parts system implementation, and the Central Repair Floor rehabilitation have all been major players in the City’s game that has resulted in a collapse of service in Sanitation.
It’s been like the children’s game of KerPlunk where you go around the table and everyone strategically pulls out one stick from a bunch of intertwining sticks that are all holding up marbles. Removing one stick doesn’t really make a difference. Taking out another stick shifts the marbles, but nothing falls. If you are lucky, nothing collapses when the third, fourth, or fifth stick gets taken away, either, However, by the time number six gets pulled … KerPlunk! All the marbles come crashing down!
Guess what? The Department of Sanitation is crashing down because the City of New York has pulled stick number six…and seven…and eight…and…
And where does that leave us now? Heading into what even the media is labeling a snowpocalypse! The first major winter storm and residents are going to be screaming because the snow will be piling up. Why? Because there won’t be enough operational vehicles to get the job done.
Not only will be streets not be cleared in a timely fashion, but trash collection will back up due to fewer vehicles available for normal operation.
I personally experienced this same situation when I first was hired in 1981. Sanitation fleet repair was in a crisis then, too, because of a large retirement of Mechanics following the 1978 snow storm, coupled with an old and outdated fleet. This combination of events led to out-of-service rates hovering between 18% and 30% on a daily basis. The City had to make dramatic changes, and quickly, by hiring new Mechanics and purchasing new equipment. The problem was that recovery from that type of situation doesn’t happen overnight; the Agency didn’t recover for close to 10 years. I tell you this because I see history repeating itself again.
The 2012 fleet consolidation that dramatically increased the Sanitation fleet by 1,134 vehicles to a total of 7,979 vehicles did not come with a corresponding increase in personnel needed to maintain and repair that thousand-plus increase. Basically, the same number of Mechanics was being utilized for not only more vehicles and equipment, but more complex vehicles and equipment. Compounding this problem was the creation of the Office of Fleet Management led by Keith Kerman out of DCAS. Kerman is the same person who was instrumental in privatization efforts under the Giuliani Administration who now wants to bring his brand of management to every City agency. Under Kerman’s so-called “leadership,” the City has fewer Mechanics and older fleet vehicles, which all contribute to the same type of disaster I personally experienced in the 80s.
One item that is critical to a healthy fleet is a seven-year scheduled replacement cycle, but Kerman is pursuing a one-year increase to eight years. Although this change on paper looks minimal, the results can be devastating. One example is snow equipment that is exposed to salt on a daily basis during the winter months, causing the equipment to reach their limits faster, become increasingly unreliable and prone to failure. Our Local has been sounding the alarm for years about the shortage of Auto Mechanics and we will continue to do whatever is necessary to stop this insanity. Working conditions and morale are not good for our members and what’s about to come for New York City residents if we get hit with a monster storm is not good either. Our warnings have been falling on deaf ears for years. It’s unfortunate that the Office of Fleet Management, or at least Keith Kerman, doesn’t seem to care. But that’s reality.
Similar shenanigans are actually occurring elsewhere, too. Just look at the Boeing 737 Max crashes and fatalities. Throughout the plane’s development, employees and engineers in the company raised concerns about a critical system that was designed to prevent the aircraft from entering into a stall upon takeoff. If this system failed, employees warned that the results could be fatal. Unfortunately, that is just what happened when 346 people lost their lives because management didn’t listen and continued to pursue profit over safety. Just as Boeing management refused to listen to its workers in the trenches everyday who have their fingers on the pulse, so too does New York City refuse to listen to our Union and Auto Mechanics who have our hands in the trenches daily. That, folks, is why we are headed toward a catastrophe.
No one wants to see a tragedy occur, especially when it is most likely us who will be blamed for not working hard enough to repair and maintain the equipment and vehicles. This is not just a Sanitation problem; the Fire Department is also dealing with a shortage of manpower and an increase in ambulance out-of-service rates as well. In fact, FDNY has gone so far as to institute a seven-day week tour for the ladder and pumper shops at 34th Street for the first time ever in an effort to head off their higher rates of out-of-service work. What good will a seven-day-a-week operation do if you don’t increase manpower to cover all the shifts? You can’t spread out the same overworked staff over seven days and expect more to get done. That simply defeats the purpose.
This is a battle that’s going to continue into the new year. As 2019 comes to a close, I look back and see how much we have accomplished. We are stronger than ever as a union. The Supreme Court Janus case did nothing to destroy us. In fact, it unified the entire labor movement more than we were before. This upcoming holiday season is one to be thankful for. As you celebrate with family and friends, please take a few moments to remember those less fortunate, and those serving overseas who will not be able to be with their loved ones. Please pick up a few extra non-perishable food items at the grocery store and either give them to your Shop Steward or bring them to the December General Membership meeting for our food collection. A few dollars you spend on food will make a world of difference to a local food pantry during the holidays.
On behalf of the entire Local 246 Executive Board and staff, I want to wish you all a very Happy Holiday season filled with health, joy, peace, and happiness. See you in 2020.