July 16, 2004
By Mark Daly
A move by Police Officers, Firefighters and Teachers to picket Madison Square Garden during preparations for the Republican National Convention is turning up the heat on leaders of the trades unions who will be doing the work.
Although the municipal unions are billing their joint effort as purely informational picketing, some appear to be hoping that trades workers will join them.
‘Want Their Support’
“We’re asking for their support,” said Al O’Leary, spokesman for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “We know there are many unionists that will not cross a picket line.”
The round-the-clock protest is due to begin July 19, when the Republican National Committee takes control of the site. Contractors will build a stage and lay miles of electric cable to prepare for the arrival of thousands of delegates, journalists and guests at the end of August.
The city unions hope to seize the national spotlight with their labor action as a pressure tactic in their contract talks with Mayor Bloomberg, who has demanded productivity concessions from each group in return for a raise. The largest unions for cops, firefighters and Teachers have been without contracts for two years.
Organizers want to maintain a continuous picket line for at least 10 days, and perhaps longer. Larger labor protests are being planned for when the Republican National Convention takes place from Aug.30 to Sept 2.
“We’re exercising our free speech right to make clear to everyone that the Mayor’s actions don’t match his words when it comes to firefighters,” said Stephen J. Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.
When the rest of the nation hears about the protest, Mr. Cassidy said, “I think they’ll be shocked that Firefighters who lost 343 brothers less than three short years ago can’t get a contract.”
Mayor Bloomberg, who claims the city lacks the ability to grant significant raises, said that situation will worsen if the pickets depress convention business.
The city’s talks with the PBA and the United Federation of Teachers are at an impasse, and state mediators have been assigned to move them along. The UFA and other fire and police unions have complained their negotiations are proceeding at a fitful pace.
The protesters may be aiming to duplicate what has unfolded in Boston, where a long-simmering contract dispute between the city police union and Mayor Thomas M. Menino has affected preparations for the Democratic National Convention, to be held July 26-29.
Boston Cops Sway Kerry
The 1,400-member Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association began its third year without a contract July 1, amid sharp disagreement with Mr. Menino over the size of a future raise.
The police unions’ protest last month outside the city’s FleetCenter, the site of the Democratic convention preparations for three days after construction and electrical workers refused to cross the picket line. The union’s later protest outside a Boston meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors prompted U.S. Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, to cancel his appearance there.
The Boston conflict is occurring on a much higher plane than labor negotiations here, where the city’s tough stance on productivity-driven raises has the unions bargaining up from zero. The Boston PBA wants 16 percent in raises over four years to match a contract previously negotiated with the city’s firefighters. Mr. Menino has offered the cops 11.9 percent over four years, citing a downturn in the city’s economy since 2001, when the firefighters’ contract was signed.
How Salaries Compare
Base pay for police officers in Boston averages $53,786 a year, according to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. With overtime, uniform allowances, and bonuses for college degrees, officers’ annual pay can reach $83,760.
The NYPD’s unions call themselves the lowest-paid of the nation’s big-city police forces. PBA members here with five years’ experience on the force make about $60,000 in base pay and differentials, and average $69,000 a year with overtime, according to the Independent Budget Office.
The officers’ pay rates are comparable to those of the city’s firefighters, who expect to match any raise that cops get. For their own part, Teachers say hiking their salaries will encourage younger recruits to stay in the profession.
A complicating factor in the New York protest is that the unions that will be working inside the Garden have signed no-strike agreements with the Republican National Committee in exchange for a guarantee that all work will be performed by union employees.
The restrictions led other members of the ad-hoc municipal coalition to downplay the significance of the protest. “This is just informational picketing. We are not asking any other union members not to cross a picket line, or anything like that,” said Ron Davis, a spokesman for the Teachers’ union.
The New York City AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, led by Brian M. McLaughlin, took part in the negotiations on the no-strike agreements, which were key to bringing the GOP convention and its accompanying jobs here. Last week, Mr. McLaughlin said his organization hadn’t received a request from the municipal unions for a show of labor solidarity.
“We will support them with everything they’ve got, the best way we can,” said Mr. McLaughlin, who said he personally spoke to Mr. Bloomberg about the issue.
Outside a Gray Area
The CLC-sponsored no-strike agreements cover all work done inside the Garden, but it’s not clear whether they cover outside units, such as Teamster locals, who may represent drivers or laborers who will be delivering materials to the site.
The latest joint effort by the three municipal unions follows the large rally they held outside City Hall in June to protest Mr. Bloomberg’s insistence that future contracts should follow the outlines of his three-year agreement with District Council 37.
DC 37’s recently ratified agreement includes a signing bonus but no raise in the first year, plus 5 percent in wage hikes. The final year’s 2-percent wage increase is linked to cuts in starting pay and benefits for future city employees.
The PBA, UFA and UFT say they are seeking a boost in pay beyond the range in the DC 37 agreement, for newer members as well as veterans.
In remarks to reporters July 8, Mr. Bloomberg hinted that the city may take legal action, if necessary, to enforce the no-strike agreements, and criticize the unions’ decision to picket.
“If they disrupt our ability to have a growing economy…we are not going to have the revenues to pay them. So they really would be very much hurting themselves if they wanted to do that,” Mr. Bloomberg said.
The PBA, which led the public announcement of the picketing last week, isn’t a member of the AFL-CIO, unlike the firefighters’ and Teachers’ unions.
Mr. O’Leary said the union wasn’t concerned about sparking a labor rift with the demonstration. “If they choose to enter and do work, we’ll still be out there getting our message out,” he said. “We’re going to make some people uncomfortable. If we create a little agita, that’s fine with us.”