August 12, 2004

NY Police, Fire Unions Warn of Convention Stoppage

By Grant McCool

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Weeks away from thousands of anti-Bush protesters converging on the Republican convention, police union members employed to control the crowds on Thursday stepped up their own threats to disrupt the meeting.

"No contract, No convention!" about 20 off-duty officers chanted before Mayor Michael Bloomberg arrived to open an HIV/AIDS services center -- the latest protest by police and firefighters who have publicly hounded the mayor for weeks over a contract dispute on wage increases.

Any disruption by two groups lionized for rescue and recovery efforts after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center would be an embarrassment for New York. The city was chosen by Republicans for the Aug. 30-Sept. 2 convention partly to focus on the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

Bloomberg dismissed union leaders' threats of wildcat strikes or other work stoppages during the gathering, which will nominate President Bush to run for a second term in the Nov. 2 election against the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

"You're not going to have a wildcat strike," Bloomberg told reporters. "The people who are sworn to defend this city, they certainly would not do that at all."

Police and firefighters have worked without a contract for two years.

The disruption could take place in the form of police and firefighters calling in sick, but any strikes or stoppages are barred by law. In July, a police union dispute with Boston threatened to disrupt the Democratic Party convention there, but the matter was resolved before the meeting.

Amid tight security involving 10,000 police officers, hundreds of thousands of protesters opposed to the U.S.-led Iraq war and other Bush policies are expected.

Leaders of the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, frustrated by the city's wage increase offers, have said they would "not rule out anything" in terms of labor unrest at the convention.

Last month, the unions began picketing with pamphlets on the streets outside Madison Square Garden, the convention venue. They have also followed Bloomberg to his public events, yelling slogans such as "No zeros for heros."

The city has offered the unions a 5 percent raise over three years, similar to a deal struck with other municipal employees. This week, mayoral aides said the raise could be as high as 8 percent if the unions agree to changes in the work schedules of firefighters and police officers.