A federal judge ordered union pickets at the FleetCenter to clear the way yesterday for construction workers and supply trucks attempting to enter the arena and dispatched US marshals to the scene, warning that those who violate his order could face criminal charges.
New York Democrats object to South Boston venue, cite past racial tensions. B1.
US District Judge Joseph L. Tauro, who called an emergency hearing after city officials said that union demonstrators had blocked workers and construction vehicles from entering the FleetCenter on Wednesday, said he had arranged for "a visible marshal presence" at the site.
"There should be no blocking of anything," said Tauro, warning that he will refer violations to the US attorney's office. "If you block access, you're running the risk of being arrested or found in contempt."
As the third day of picketing led by the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association continued to hold up construction, Democratic leaders in Washington briefed the party's presumptive nominee on the problems in Boston and scrambled for ways out of the impasse. Construction delays are costing $100,000 a day, said a Democratic official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A planned media walk-through Tuesday to show off progress on the $14 million conversion of the FleetCenter was postponed, a Democratic official said.
In Boston, Mayor Thomas M. Menino met privately with leaders of Service Employees International Union Local 888 and arranged for marathon bargaining in hope of wrapping up a deal. Menino and Democratic leaders have said that an agreement with service employees could go a long way in weakening the FleetCenter picket line.
Talks continued late yesterday evening, but with 11 separate contracts to sign -- covering 2,300 city workers, including 911 dispatchers and school secretaries -- officials said it would be difficult to finish a settlement by last night.
"We are in hard bargaining, but we are still a ways apart," said Jeff Hall, a spokesman for SEIU Local 888.
One city official said that even if an agreement couldn't be reached, Menino hoped to make enough progress to persuade the union to agree not to join the picket line this morning.
Early yesterday, some 200 pickets assembled at the FleetCenter, the site of the Democratic National Convention starting July 26, and a truck attempting to deliver steel turned around after a crowd of union members stood at a chain-link gate in front of the arena, shouting "back it up," and "respect the line, buddy."
On-duty police officers, who had been instructed to prevent pickets from restricting access, did not intervene. After the court ruling, US Marshal Anthony Dichio arrived at the site and met with union leaders, Boston police, and FleetCenter managers.
Dichio toured the perimeter of the building with Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole, telling union members they could picket up to the edge of entrances but not in front of them. He said pickets must ask on-duty police officers for permission to cross in front of those entrances from now on.
"You just can't be free like you have been," he told pickets.
Police union president Thomas J. Nee summoned pickets to gather around him and told them the union would not quit and that the fight had not ended. The pickets shouted, "No contracts, no convention," as they headed back to the line.
O'Toole said violators will be arrested.
"No one under any circumstances will block entrances," said O'Toole. "Boston police will enforce that. . . . My hope is that we won't have to make any arrests, that is my good hope."
The showdown at the FleetCenter has squeezed an already-tight construction agenda.
Workers were supposed to spend the first three days of the 48-day construction period removing seats from the FleetCenter and preparing for the conversion; starting on Tuesday, steelworkers were supposed to begin working round-the-clock shifts, building reinforcements for skyboxes and the staging area.
Five feet of concrete was also supposed to be poured outside the building on the footprint of the old Boston Garden, to level the foundation for the two-story, 100,000 square-foot media pavilion, the workspace for some of the 15,000 reporters covering the event.
Catch-up work was set to begin inside the FleetCenter today. In a statement, Thomas Goemaat -- president and chief executive of Shawmut Design and Construction, which is building out the FleetCenter -- said: "This project is on an extremely tight construction schedule, and we are working on plans to make up the time we've lost. I am optimistic that we will be able to do so and have the FleetCenter ready in time for the Democratic National Convention."
In court yesterday morning, Alan H. Shapiro, one of the attorneys for the police union, told the judge that some courts have allowed demonstrators three to five minutes to clear access to a site.
But Tauro shot back, "Not in this case."
"You can be on the side and be visible," Tauro said. "You don't have to be on a front bumper waving a flag. I expect my orders to be obeyed unless they're modified or revisited. If you don't obey them, I'll hold you in contempt. "
Nee said he was "insulted" that his members were accused of criminal conduct by Tauro. He blamed Menino for failing to resolve the contract dispute.
"He has no exit strategy," Nee said. "He's like Bush in Iraq, I don't mean to sound cavalier. I don't know how to get him off the field. Tommy Nee isn't in this business to play a game. I'm an advocate of people's rights. I'm not looking for a fight."
Late in the day, a rumor flashed through the picket line that Menino had fired his chief negotiator, Dennis DiMarzio. Menino said that was "wishful thinking."
Negotiations with the police union have been hung up for months over the size of the pay increase to be awarded to police officers. The city's latest offer is 11.9 percent over the next four years, with the raises beginning in the second year of the contract.
The police union is seeking between 16 and 18 percent over four years, and wants the increases in 4-percent increments, beginning in the first year of the contract.
Menino has repeatedly said the city cannot fund the raise police demand. .
Glen Johnson, Rick Klein, and Frank Phillips of the Globe staff, and Globe correspondents Elise Castelli and Tyrone Richardson contributed to this story, which was written by Yvonne Abraham of the Globe staff.