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Protesters come out swinging at Fenway

As thousands of Red Sox fans poured onto Yawkey Way to attend the team's home opener yesterday, about 150 union protesters met them on their way to the park, carrying signs decrying Mayor Thomas M. Menino and handing out 10,000 baseball score cards with "Menino Strikes Out" printed on them.

"The games begin today," said Thomas J. Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association. "We're out here opening people's eyes to what's going on."

As he spoke, a small plane circled overhead, pulling a large banner that read, "Menino: Democrats Negotiate Contracts." The plane was jointly funded by the Unity Coalition of labor unions, a group that includes the Patrolmen's Association, firefighters, service employees, and several other large city labor unions.

The demonstration was an attempt to bring stalled union negotiations to a wider audience after months of protests at events like the mayor's State of the City address, union leaders said. It was also a taste of the public demonstrations some unions could try at July's Democratic National Convention if they don't have contracts by then.

About an hour before game time, the protesters began marching around the stadium, chanting, "No contracts, no peace!"

The protesters received vocal approval from some passersby, and cars honked in support. But they were also heckled by some.

"Shouldn't you guys be at work?" yelled an onlooker near Bill's Bar on Lansdowne Street. Others said that labor unions were outdated and that their members should be glad they have jobs in a tough economy.

Some clearly were confused about the demonstrators' cause. As the protesters chanted, "Union bashing's got to go!" a Worcester man driving a van honked.

"This is great," said the man, who declined to give his name. "I am totally in favor of civil unions." He said he thought the chant referred to the recent struggle over same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Others simply ignored the protesters, appearing more interested in the spectacle of opening day than in union disputes.

Many said they had come from outside Boston. "I don't think a lot of people really understand what's going on," said Alli Freedenfeld, who stood outside the park, passing out free samples of a fruit beverage called Fuze.

Union protesters had to compete for attention with Freedenfeld and other vendors, including street teams distributing free "reverse the curse" cookies.

Aside from a few arguments between demonstrators and those opposing the protest, the afternoon went without major incidents. Red Sox media representatives did not return calls.

The Unity Coalition is planning more public events, said Tony Antonelli, head of the 10 AFSCME local public employees unions in Boston. Unless contracts are settled, demonstrators and the plane will be showing up at the Boston Marathon on April 19 and, if necessary, the Democratic National Convention in July, he said.

"Land, air, and sea -- that's our motto from now on," Antonelli said. "We've tried to be reasonable, but [Menino] is putting the city's reputation at risk by continuing to stall us at the negotiating table. It's time to get real."

Menino has signed tenative agreements with three unions: the Boston Teachers Union, the Salaried Employees of North America, and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society. The detectives union voted to reject its agreement two weeks ago, and salaried employees delayed their ratification vote. The teachers are scheduled to vote April 14.

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