Jack and David are members of the Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run political awareness organization for high school students.
This week, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New York City. Schools closed for an entire week -- unheard of in New York City history. The New York Stock Exchange closed for two consecutive days due to weather -- for the first time in over 100 years. The death toll as of November 1, 2012 was 44 lives, and many more injured. Millions of New Yorkers were without power for much of the week, with a video of the explosion of a power generator in lower Manhattan going viral within minutes. Between 80-100 homes were destroyed by the storm, with many more flooded for days. Meanwhile, the New York City subway system was paralyzed on Monday and Tuesday, and access remains limited at the time of this article's writing. Lower Manhattan (Zone A) after being evacuated Monday, continues to have no subway access. The Federal Government was closed on Monday and Tuesday. Amtrak too was closed and trains canceled. It was "a devastating storm, maybe the worst that we have ever experienced," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
On Monday, Bloomberg announced: "The storm is here and will be here ... well into tomorrow...Now you should concentrate on keeping yourselves and your family safe to the extent possible." The Office of Emergency Management urged: "Stay indoors, stay away from windows and avoid unnecessary travel, either on foot or by vehicle. If you must go out, make sure all windows are closed and locked and all water faucets are turned off."
Everyone was instructed to be safe and take necessary precautions -- except New York City employees. In an email sent by Chancellor Denis Walcott to administrative staff on Sunday, October 28, he wrote:
"In accordance with city policy, city government is open and all employees who work in central and field offices are expected to try to overcome transportation difficulties caused by the storm and report to work. This includes teachers assigned, Supervisors, Educational Administrators, managers and all other staff working in central and field offices."
This was a very casual email sent during a hectic period of time. It's so outrageous, that seeing it after the fact can't even come close to explaining the audacity and hypocrisy of Mayor Bloomberg and the senior staff of the Department of Education. Let me put it in perspective:
While millions of New Yorkers sat in dark apartments, some without water, heard a power plant exploding nearby, and watched fires destroy close to 100 homes, others were expected to leave their children and loved ones in order to go to work.
Were these first responders, fire fighters, or cops? No, they were members of the New York City's administrative staff (lawyers, social workers, clerical workers, and others).
How could they get to work?
Their options were quite simple. Ride a bike through a hurricane (yes, there were 75 mile-per-hour winds and pouring rain), walk to work (because three hours in the pouring rain is a safe bet), or hitchhike. Any idiot needed only to look out of his window to realize how ridiculous a task this was - not to mention how unsafe any of the available options were.
Just as Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Cuomo, and the Office of Emergency Management were advising people to stay off the streets, avoid transportation, and be cautious, they were sending their own employees to work. Talk about double standards.
What was the penalty for choosing to avoid putting oneself in harm's way by walking to work during a hurricane?
Employees were told that their absence would be counted as personal leave days. I read this as: "You'd better show up to work, and if you don't, we'll mark you absent." An entire city is shut down because of a storm that the Mayor himself describes as one of the worst in the city's history, and employees are penalized for not putting themselves in danger. This is an outrage.
To redress this, Mayor Bloomberg must take three steps.
First, he ought to issue a formal apology to all City employees who were unnecessarily forced either go to work, or use their personal leave days, on Monday and Tuesday. Second, he ought to compensate those who did attend work by paying them for overtime. Finally, he should return the personal leave days to those who chose to stay at home.
Mayor Bloomberg has had a very tough week, and mistakes are a part of the process. The real test, however, is whether he can recognize his mistakes, take responsibility for them, and address them.