Boston: Mayor Menino Vs. Public Employee Unions

Menino Challenges Unions To Bring On The Picket Lines

By Ellen J. Silberman
Sunday, December 28, 2003

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is lashing out at city workers, accusing them of trying to harass him into granting raises.

"They're going to try to hold me hostage," said an angry Menino Friday, challenging thousands of city employees to picket his State of the City Address next month. "I can't be held hostage. I have to represent all of the people of Boston."

The mayor and the city's 32 municipal labor unions are at an impasse over unsigned contracts, many of which expired more than a year ago. Some of the rhetoric has been ugly - with one police union threatening to embarrass Menino by picketing the Democratic National Convention and Menino accusing union leaders of trying to break the bank in tough fiscal times.

Most union leaders have been keeping a low profile since September, when the mayor brought them to the Parkman House and pledged to get the contracts signed by the end of the year. With the mayor's timetable about to expire, union leaders are preparing to picket Menino's Jan. 13 State of the City Address.

"It depends on how negotiations go," said Nick DiMarino, president of Firefighters Local 718. "We're leaving our options open."

And 10 city unions that negotiate under the umbrella of the AFSCME Boston Presidents' Committee already have voted to picket Menino's speech - but could pull back if negotiations break off before the address.

"We're at the point where the other unions were when they walked away (from the bargaining table)," said Tony Antonelli, chairman of the AFSCME committee.

Privately, both union and City Hall sources describe most of the negotiations as unproductive. They say the protest outside Menino's Jan. 13 speech will be huge - including thousands of city workers, scores of other labor activists and most of the 13-member Boston City Council.

The scene will echo 2001 when some 2,000 union members - protesting the lack of a firefighters' contract - jeered at Menino on his way to his State of the City Address.

"This thing will dwarf that event," said Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association and one of Menino's fiercest critics.

Three years ago the Menino administration negotiated feverishly with firefighters to try to avoid the embarrassing protest - then broke off talks after the speech. But Menino said he won't make a last-minute push to avert the picket line.