July 19, 2004

Unions protest lack of contracts


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  A commuter walks past union representatives. Click on the picture to see slideshow of pictures taken today.

Approximately 120 police officers, firefighters, paramedics, Emergency Medical Technicians and teachers began picketing outside Madison Square Garden this morning in the start of a 10-day protest for new contracts.

Holding signs such as, "We don't need to be rich like Mayor Bloomberg… We just need to support our families," the union members said they are protesting in an attempt to put pressure on the Mayor to offer them contracts they feel are acceptable.

"We want to draw attention to the fact that these contracts have been outstanding for a long time and put a little pressure on the Mayor and the City to resolve theses issues," said Bill Haigney, an EMT who works in the court system in lower Manhattan. Haigney, 48, of Rockland County added that another key aim of the protests was to gather public support.

Although the protestors were largely peaceful, a group of 45 picketers stationed along the sidewalk on West 33rd Street inflated a 20 foot rat and yelled, "Scab," and "Go home," at truck drivers attempting to make deliveries to MSG and the surrounding area.

Some 400 to 500 off-duty personnel are expected to encircle MSG throughout the day, handing out literature to remind New Yorkers that cops, firefighters and teachers are without contracts, according to Al O'Leary, a spokesman for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

He said the protest begins today because the city will hand over a symbolic key to the Republicans to mark the start of formal GOP convention planning at the Garden.

Firefighter Rob McDevitt, who is stationed at Ladder Company 11 in the Lower East Side expressed frustration at what he said is a misuse of the City's funds.

"There is no reason why the biggest city in the world can't pay its fire and police adequately," said McDevitt, 40, of Malverne, Long Island.

Mayoral spokesman Ed Skyler suggested yesterday in a statement that the unions should learn how to negotiate like the "responsible leaders" of District Council 37, which represents 138,000 city employees and which recently signed a deal with the city.

"The unions protesting continue to prove that the only thing their leaders are good at is grandstanding and diverting attention from the fact that they are incapable of coming to the table and getting raises for their members," Skyler said

One key sticking point with the union members is Bloomberg's offer of pay increases similar to those accepted by District Council 37. That plan provides for a $1,000 cash payment and a 5 percent raise over a three-year period that requires increased productivity, longer work hours and lower starting pay.

Police officer Scott Williamson, 41, said the City's inadequate compensation plan is the problem.

"We don't mind doing the work if they are willing to pay us," said Williamson, a trustee with the PBA who is stationed at the 42nd precinct.

Special education teacher Teddy Pearlman, 51, said that due to the lack of a contract with wages and benefits competitive to the suburbs, many teachers are leaving City schools or changing professions.

Jim Slevin, the vice president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association echoed the need for salary parity with firefighters in the surrounding areas of Yonkers, Newark and Jersey City.

"The same people who heroes in 9/11 are now being treated as second class citizens," Slevin said.