In another incident, city project manager Joseph Lohman was overseeing an emergency water main repair on Manhattan's West End Avenue when a passing tractor trailer struck a barrier that knocked Lohman into an open trench. Lohman died six days later. PESH opened its investigation promptly this time, but didn't issue its report until last December14 months after the accident.
PESH has also turned a blind eye to potential health hazards, union officials charge. District Council 37 officials protested last year that city parks department workers weren't getting proper training for handling pesticides and other chemicals. Such action would be in violation of the state's Right to Know law, which requires training for workers exposed to toxic hazards. PESH, however, found no violations. Frustrated, the unions turned to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who found much of the parks department's training "essentially meaningless" and the agency in violation of the law.
The Pataki administration's safety failures have gone virtually unnoticed by the mainstream media. Only the civil-service weekly The Chiefand reporter Molly Charboneau in DC 37's Public Employee Press, along with other public worker union newspapers, have reported the problems.
So why are unions toasting Pataki, who faces a likely tough Democratic challenge for reelection in 2002? Union officials, off the record, acknowledge it is simply part of labor's traditional go-along-to-get-along, nonconfrontational style in Albany. Hughes, of the AFL-CIO, insisted no one should read too much into the Pataki affair.
"This is definitely not an endorsement," said Hughes, who helped form a coalition of public unions to examine PESH last year. "That's a year away. It's true we have a real problem with enforcement of public employee and safety regulations. Their record is not good at all. It is pretty abysmal. It got worse under this administration."
The fundraiser, expected to raise $50,000 for Pataki's war chest, will help "open the door," said Hughes. "It says, 'We want to work with you.' "