The Times Finally Covers Union Snow-Shoveling Slowdown, Buries It on A-20

After being beaten to the punch by local TV and the New York Post, the Times tentatively tackled charges that sanitation workers sabotaged the cleanup after last week's city blizzard - but only after the feds announced an investigation.The story itself, Blizzard Cleanup Is Subject of Inquiry, was buried pretty deep, not on the front page, but in the paper's local section, page A-20

A union protection racket? After being beaten to the punch by the local CBS affiliate, the New York Post, and lots of bloggers, the Times finally tackled charges that the sanitation workers union sabotaged the cleanup after last week's blizzard that left Manhattan snowbound and snarled transit for days - but only after federal prosecutors announced an investigation.

The story itself, "Blizzard Cleanup Is Subject of Inquiry," was buried pretty deep, not on the front page, but in the paper's local section, page A-20.

The investigation is focusing on whether there was a work slowdown and, if so, whether it was an effort to pad overtime. If the actions took place, two of those people said, they could constitute wire fraud or wire fraud conspiracy, both federal crimes. Both people spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

Reporters William Rashbaum and Russ Buettner downplayed the "rumors" of a slowdown:

Evidence to support rumors that some sanitation workers intentionally slowed their efforts has been scant. The leaders of the two unions that represent sanitation workers and supervisors have denied that a slowdown occurred, as have Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the Sanitation Department's commissioner, John J. Doherty. All would have a vested interest in deflecting blame for the problems.

City Councilman Daniel J. Halloran, a Republican of Queens, was quoted in The New York Post on Thursday saying that supervisors, bitter over recent demotions and staff reductions, told their workers to "not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner."

In a telephone interview that day, Mr. Halloran said three sanitation workers, including one whom he had long known and who had worked on his election campaign, told him that the message from their supervisors was not quite so explicit. They were told they would not be closely monitored and should not overwork themselves, he said, adding that the message was subtle to avoid a violation of the state's Taylor Law, which bars public-sector unions from going on strike.