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Firefighters to rally on day of marathon

By Raphael Lewis, Globe Staff, 4/1/2001

pectators near the finish line of the 105th Boston Marathon will have prime seats for another of the city's longest-running competitions: the battle between Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the firefighters union.

Working without a contract since June 1999, members of Firefighters Local 718 plan to gather by the thousands on Boston Common on April 16, union president Jack McKenna said yesterday.

They then will march down Commonwealth Avenue to Dartmouth Street, site of the memorial to the nine Boston firefighters killed in the 1972 Hotel Vendome fire, where they will stage a rallyjust two blocks from the Marathon's end.

''I'm sure this might [anger] the mayor a little, but we're concerned,'' McKenna said, noting that negotiations between the city and the union have not taken place since January. ''We're here two years without a contract and a raise, and until a couple of months ago, the economy was sailing along wonderfully.''

Menino, through spokeswoman Alicia Savannah, said yesterday that he has been aware of the union's plans for three months. He questioned the effectiveness of such measures, saying the arbitration table, not the street, is where progress on a new contract can be made.

''He wants this to come to an end,'' Savannah said. ''All this picketing and protesting is not doing anything.''

''He says he's willing to sit down and arbitrate,'' Savannah continued. ''It's time to get to the table and deal with the issues at hand.''

Although neither side would disclose where talks left off, negotiations began with the city offering pay raises of 13.8 percent over three years, and firefighters demanding 21 percent.

When the talks broke off, McKenna said, both sides had come to an agreement on the general language of a contract, and ''the city had moved up.''

Since negotiations ceased, however, the firefighters, who are barred by law from striking, have adopted increasingly public measures to push the city's hand.

In January, about 2,000 firefighters staged a rowdy demonstration at the mayor's State of the City address. And beginning in February, union representatives have fanned out in one city ward each Saturday, knocking on doors and asking residents to call City Hall in their support.

Their next move will come April 6, the day of the Red Sox home opener at Fenway Park, when the firefighters will march from Kenmore Square along Brookline Avenue to the ballpark, where they will hand out fliers and plead their case, McKenna said.

''We wish the Red Sox the best of luck, but before they win a World Series, we'd like a contract,'' McKenna said.

The Opening Day march, as well as the Marathon rally, are being planned as informational, not confrontational, events, McKenna said.

''We're certainly not going to disrupt the game or impede anyone or picket,'' McKenna, a 30-year firefighter, said. ''We're going to simply hand out palm cards with information about why we're here and to call the mayor.''

The city has planned no special security measures to ensure the day is a peaceful one, Savannah said - even though police were forced to rush Menino's wife through a boisterous crowd of firefighters the night of the State of the City address.

While no formal negotiations have taken place in months, McKenna said that both sides have held several informal discussions in recent weeks, and that ''there's been some progress.''

''Quite simply, I think we're gonna do the deal behind the scenes,'' he said.

The Marathon day rally, when the eyes of millions around the world will be trained on the city, could certainly slow down that behind-the-scenes progress, McKenna admitted. But it's a risk the union is willing to take, he said.

''I'm sure we've made lots of mistakes,'' McKenna said. ''But I think this is reasonable.''

This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 4/1/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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