On New Year's Eve, a priest in Queens performed the last rites for 3-month-old Addison Reynoso, who had a respiratory infection and was struggling to breathe. With New York's streets still clogged with snow, emergency responders took over half an hour to arrive. On the way to the hospital, the streets were so unnavigable, paramedics ditched their ambulance and ran the infant to the hospital. By the time they arrived, the child was brain-dead. In addition to Reynoso's ordeal, an infant died in Brooklyn earlier in the week when a woman gave birth in her apartment building and waited nine hours for help in the snow.
So why weren't New York's streets cleaned up sooner? The day before Reynoso's ordeal, the New York Post reported city sanitation workers visited the office of City Councilman Dan Halloran, of Queens, and confessed to deliberately hampering the snow removal effort.
"They were told [by supervisors] to take off routes [and] not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner. They were told to make the mayor pay for the layoffs, the reductions in rank for the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank-and-file," Halloran said.
In a city of 8 million people, surely union workers knew that staging a work slowdown during a major snowstorm meant they were risking lives. They did it anyway.
Not that New York sanitation workers have much to complain about regarding budget cuts. Some 300 Sanitation Department workers make more than $100,000 annually, and at least 180 retirees have pensions of $66,000.
This episode makes clear a truth about unions that often goes unsaid: Demonstrating a callous indifference to human life is a hallmark of union negotiating tactics.
As head of the United Mine Workers in 1993, Richard Trumka told striking workers "kick the [expletive] out of every last one of 'em."
The strike was rife with violence, and in July of that year, union goons shot miner Eddie York in the back of the head, killing him for crossing a picket line. York had a wife and three kids.
Trumka never disciplined a single worker present at York's killing and fought his widow's wrongful-death suit in court. "I'm saying if you strike a match and you put your finger in it, you're likely to get burned," Trumka said when asked about the violence.
Trumka is now the head of the AFL-CIO, the largest union in the country. Rather than reject his questionable tactics, organized labor has rewarded Trumka.
This past August, Trumka attacked Sarah Palin for using the term "union thugs," which Trumka said justified "terrorizing of workers, the murdering of organizers." But union thugs are very real -- Trumka should know. In recent years, workers have been firebombed, stabbed, beaten, stalked and even had their families threatened for not toeing the union line.
Fortunately, the vast majority of union members do their jobs well, irrespective of their corrupt union bosses. And it should be said that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's disastrous decision not to declare a snow emergency in advance may have had as much to do with the city's inability to quickly clear the roads as the sanitation workers' slowdown.
But the ugly truth is that union bosses have no problem putting the safety of your children at risk or disregarding the lives of workers in order to get more money.
New York's Gov. David Paterson has called for a criminal investigation into New York sanitation workers. Any union boss who contributed to the death of Addison Reynoso should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Mark Hemingway is an editorial page staff writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com.