The Boston globe
August 11, 2004

NY unions present challenge to mayor

Firefighters, police weigh convention strike

By Timothy Williams Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Police officers and firefighters announced an impasse yesterday in their contract negotiations with the city and refused to rule out an illegal strike or sickouts during the Republican National Convention.

Off-duty police officers have recently been showing up at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's daily public appearances and picketing outside Madison Square Garden, the site of the Republican National Convention beginning Aug. 30.

''Everyone has a limit, and the mayor needs to know we're close to our limit," said Stephen Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

In the days leading to the Democratic National Convention, Boston firefighters threatened to picket parties and other events attended by delegates. A contract agreement was reached on the eve of the convention, and no picketing took place.

In New York, several other city unions have already accepted a 5 percent raise plus $1,000 over three years. A mayor's spokesman said yesterday the city's last offer to the police and fire unions was a $1,000 lump sum payment plus an 8 percent pay increase over three years. Most of that hike, however, would be contingent on the unions' agreement to accept other contract changes, such as lower pay for new workers.

Police have been without a contract since July 31, 2002, and firefighters since May 31, 2002.

But yesterday, the police and fire union representatives said they deserve more significant raises than other city employees.

''Mike Bloomberg says we're no different than people that push paper," said Cassidy. ''It's an insult to the firefighters and police officers who risk their lives every day."

Bloomberg has said the city cannot afford to give significant raises to municipal unions.

''It doesn't matter what tactics they use, the mayor isn't going to be intimidated into making a bad deal for the city," said Bloomberg's spokesman, Ed Skyler.

Meanwhile, city officials yesterday denied a second application from antiwar activists who want to demonstrate in Central Park on the eve of the Republican National Convention, likely sending the matter to court.

The antiwar group United for Peace and Justice had reached a compromise with the city last month to stage the massive Aug. 29 rally on a west Manhattan highway, but backed out of the agreement by submitting a second application to gather in the park.

Police offered the highway location after the parks department denied the group's original request for Central Park, citing possible damage to the Great Lawn. The second denial noted that the new permit request was for ''essentially the same event," and was denied for the same reason.

Leaders said they had reluctantly agreed to the West Side Highway last month but changed their minds after city officials allegedly refused to discuss their concerns about access to drinking water, sound projection, and crowd flow on the shadeless road.