After a blizzard last December 26, it became national news that New York City sanitation workers supposedly engaged in a slowdown that stymied the city’s snow-removal effort. The claims immediately fueled attacks on “Big Labor.” Now, the city’s Department of Investigation has completed a thorough report that rejects those allegations.
It’s worth looking back on the story because it reveals what has become a well-shoveled path for bogus controversies. It began with a story in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, was picked up immediately at Murdoch’s Fox News, and then was followed, sometimes breathlessly and usually with not much skepticism, by the rest of the news media. (The New York Times questioned the claims in a carefully reported January 26 story.)
Daniel Halloran, a freshman Republican councilman from Queens who was elected with Tea Party support, claimed to the Post that three sanitation workers and two city transportation supervisor had told him about a slowdown scheme. The Post pumped up these claims into a citywide conspiracy and reported them as fact, not allegations, in a a December 30 story:
These garbage men really stink.
Selfish Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts – a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles, The Post has learned.
Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island still remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, several sources and a city lawmaker said, which was over a raft of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.
The next day, the Post claimed that sanitation workers had targeted certain neighborhoods for a slowdown for political reasons:
There was a method to their madness.
The selfish Sanitation bosses who sabotaged the blizzard cleanup to fire a salvo at City Hall targeted politically connected and well-heeled neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn to get their twisted message across loud and clear, The Post has learned.
Another story speculated that the supposed slowdown caused the deaths of people who couldn’t get to a hospital because of snow-clogged streets. “There may be blood on their hands,” it began.
Commentators piled on. Michelle Malkin: “Let the snow-choked streets of New York be a lesson for the rest of the nation: It’s time to put the Big Chill on Big Labor-run municipal services.” Juan Williams on Fox: “… it’s an evidence of the mindset of the unions. They feel entitled. They feel as if, you know what? You can’t budget cut or lay people off in the public sector any more without feeling they are legitimate in punishing you, the mayor and the people of the city of New York.” And so forth – jokes on late-night TV, etc.
But even Halloran said the union wasn’t part of the purported scheme; he claimed some recently demoted sanitation supervisors were the culprits. As it turned out, Halloran refused to reveal the names of the three sanitation workers he claims spoke with him; the two transportation supervisors said he had twisted their conversation, the city Investigation Department found. Beyond that, the report found, there was no evidence of a slowdown.
In other words, a snow job.