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NYC mayor to probe claims that workers delayed snow cleanup

By David Ariosto, CNN
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NYC snow cleanup slowdown?
  • NEW: Sanitation Officers Association denies allegations of a worker slowdown
  • New York Gov. David Paterson calls for an investigation
  • Sanitation workers union leader says he is unaware of any slowdown
  • "It would be an outrage if it took place," Mayor Michael Bloomberg says

New York (CNN) -- Days after a monster blizzard blanketed much of the northeastern U.S., New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he will investigate whether sanitation workers intentionally delayed cleanup efforts over frustrations regarding citywide budget cuts.

"It would be an outrage if it took place," Bloomberg said Thursday, stressing that his administration's primary focus is clearing streets in the city's outer boroughs. Some neighborhoods remained snowbound for days after the storm.

Rumors swirled across New York on Thursday that sanitation officers ordered rank-and-file workers to slow down cleanup efforts in retaliation for the city's belt-tightening measures.

City councilman Dan Halloran said three sanitation workers and two Department of Transportation supervisors came to his office saying their supervisors ordered the slowdown, telling workers "The mayor will see how much he needs us" and that "there will be plenty of overtime."

Bloomberg: 'Response was inadequate'
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Bloomberg said that budget cuts had not yet taken effect, but defended them, saying "the state is facing a budget deficit that's going to filter down to us."

The slow cleanup effort hampered morning commuters, delayed first responders and even prevented aircraft service personnel from reaching airports where 29 international flights were stuck on the tarmac for more than three hours, officials said.

By Thursday, snow plows had reached nearly every street in the city, Bloomberg said.

The head of New York's sanitation workers' union, Harry Nespoli, said he was not aware of any slowdown and doubts there was a protest by workers.

Nespoli said "it was one of the biggest blizzards I've ever seen," with wind conditions that severely reduced drivers' visibility and hampered cleanup efforts.

He had earlier blamed harsh winds and budget cuts as reasons for the slow response.

"We were 400 people short," said Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association. "There are certain services that should not be affected. The people pay taxes for it."

New York's Sanitation Officers Association on Thursday posted comments denying allegations of a slowdown.

"When look around your neighborhood and wonder what the heck happened with the City's snow fighting ability you don't have to look any further than City Hall," the website said.

Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty also said he had not seen evidence of a worker protest.

"But we have to look into that," he said.

Outgoing New York Gov. David Paterson has also weighed in, saying it would be a "very, very serious breach" if the accusations are accurate.

Paterson called for an investigation Thursday.