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Police contract gives 14.5 percent raise over 4 years

BOSTON -- The city's disgruntled police officers vowed to stick with their plan to picket dozens of events during next week's Democratic National Convention, despite winning a four-year pay raise of 14.5 percent from an independent arbitrator on Thursday.

The Boston Police Patrolmen's Association intends to protest at events attended by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino during the four-day convention, including the 29 delegate welcome parties the mayor will host on Sunday night.

"We fully expect our lines will be up Sunday night," union president Thomas Nee said, flanked by a dozen other officers. "We will have the support of our brothers and sisters from around the country."

He said the pickets will be a gesture of solidarity with several smaller police bargaining units and city firefighters who remain without a contract. But Menino, who has been locked in a bitter dispute with the police union for two years, accused the 1,400-member union of having ulterior motives.

"We've got a contract. There's no reason for the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association to do any picketing at all," Menino said. "If they're going to continue to picket, there has to be another agenda."

An independent arbitrator appointed by the state's labor relations board awarded the new police contract on Thursday afternoon. The union had demanded 17 percent over four years while the city offered 11.9 percent. Independent arbitrator Lawrence Holden was allowed to give the officers whatever raise he saw as fair.

The prospect of pickets presents a unique dilemma for the thousands of labor-friendly delegates and Democratic officeholders who will begin arriving in town this weekend, as well as the party's presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry.

The Massachusetts senator refused to cross a police picket line last month to make a scheduled address to a gathering of mayors in Boston.

Two delegation welcome parties scheduled for Sunday night have already been canceled, after delegates from Ohio and Michigan said they would not cross picket lines. The police have vowed to picket each party and any other event Menino attends. They have also encouraged delegates to boycott or walk out of the FleetCenter when the mayor addresses on Monday night.

Nee had previously said union members would not picket outside the FleetCenter because they didn't want to impede Kerry's Thursday acceptance speech. But earlier this week, after the Joint Labor Management Committee sent the dispute to expedited arbitration, Nee said the police might renege on that promise.

He said Thursday that no decision had been made on whether to picket outside the downtown arena where the convention will be staged. The union has had a history of supporting Republican presidential candidates.

Holden notified union and city officials about his decision privately. It is binding and cannot be appealed.

Last Thursday, it appeared the conflict would not be resolved before the convention. The state labor relations board ordered the dispute to arbitration, but refused to expedite the process, meaning it could take months to wrap up.

On Monday, however, the board reversed itself after Republican Gov. Mitt Romney appointed a new chairman and the board's voting labor representative changed his mind and supported a speedy schedule.

Outraged union officials immediately filed suit, seeking a court injunction to stop the arbitration from going forward. They argued that the board had denied them their due process and imposed an unrealistically short time frame for the arbitration process. A Superior Court judge rejected the request Tuesday morning and a state Appeals Court followed suit that afternoon.

Arbitration began at noon Tuesday, against the union's will. 

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