By Rick Klein, Globe Staff, 4/8/2004
Boston labor unions are taking their gripe with Mayor Thomas M. Menino to an arena close to the mayor's heart: sporting events.
Angry about the slow progress of contract talks, a collection of unions is planning to demonstrate and hand out literature outside tomorrow's Boston Red Sox home opener. The unions will do the same again near the Boston Marathon's finish line on Patriots Day.
The union coalition even rented a plane to circle the area around Fenway Park tomorrow, shortly before game time. The plane will carry a banner that includes a not-so-subtle reference to this summer's Democratic National Convention: "Menino: Democrats Negotiate Contracts."
"It's an opportunity to reach a large amount of people and let them know what's going on with the contract talks in Boston, which aren't good," said Jim Durkin, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees' Council 93, which represents about 2,000 employees of the city of Boston.
"At this point, obviously, we don't have a contract, so we're proceeding accordingly," Durkin said. "We're still united."
Organizers of tomorrow's protest say they'll have about 100 union members handing out score cards that can be used during the game. The score cards will have the DNC slogan on them and will include baseball-related quips about contract talks: "Menino strikes out," for example. The score cards will also remind fans that having settled one of the city's 32 city contracts gives Menino a "batting average" of less than .032.
Seth Gitell, Menino's spokesman, said that last month's settlement with the Boston Teachers Union shows that labor organizations that are committed to reaching agreements with the city can do so. He pointed out that talks with the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association are now being handled by a state mediation board.
"The important thing is to focus on activities that will get things done at the table," Gitell said. "Mayor Menino's team will work at the table with those who are willing to negotiate."
Menino is a big sports fan and a Red Sox season ticket holder. While he doesn't plan on attending the home opener, he toured Fenway Park yesterday with team executives to see off-season improvements made to the stadium. The mayor attends the Boston Marathon every year and is planning to be near the finish line this April 19, as well.
The protests are being run by the Unity Coalition of labor unions, a group that includes the police patrolmen, the firefighters, AFSCME, Service Employees International Union, and several other of the city's largest labor unions. The teachers' union remains part of the coalition, although its contract has been settled.
Protests at Fenway Park and the marathon are part of a campaign to reach more area residents, union leaders said.
"We haven't gone away, and nothing's going well at anybody's table," said Thomas J. Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association.
Menino has signed tentative agreements with three unions: the Boston Teachers Union, the Salaried Employees of North America, and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society. But two weeks ago, rank-and-file detectives rejected their pacts, and SENA has delayed its ratification vote because of disagreements with the city over contract specifics. The teachers' union has scheduled a ratification vote April 14.
Despite expectations that the city would show steady progress in settling contracts, union leaders are growing frustrated, said Rich Rogers, executive secretary treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council.
"The mayor should be playing ball with the unions, not the Red Sox," Rogers said.
The unions' escalation of the publicity campaign comes at an inauspicious time for Menino. Boston will host its first national political convention July 26-29, and the patrolmen's association has threatened to protest outside the FleetCenter if its contract isn't settled by then. In addition, the mayor is coming under pressure from national labor leaders to avoid the prospect of having union-friendly Democrats come to a city with labor unrest.
Menino and his aides maintain that the city doesn't have enough money to give workers raises along the lines of those they have come to expect in recent years.
Rick Klein can be reached at email@example.com.