July 28, 2004

Hundreds of police, fire march on City Hall

By Nia-Malika Henderson and Glenn Thrush Staff Writers

About 250 police and fire union members chanting "Strike!" and "Bloomberg must go!" blocked City Hall's east gate for 15 minutes yesterday morning to demand pay raises.

Leaders of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association and the Uniformed Firefighters Association stopped short of saying they'd strike for a new contract. Municipal labor strikes are illegal under state law.

"The UFA and the PBA will not rule out anything," said PBA president Patrick Lynch, when asked if he would consider a work stoppage. "We will listen to what our members say and do anything they ask."

Other officials later backtracked, saying a strike would be unlikely, considering the possibility they could ultimately get a good deal through binding arbitration.

The unions may be ramping up their rhetoric in the hopes that Mayor Michael Bloomberg will opt for a fast deal rather than risk labor demonstrations during next month's Republican National Convention. \ "The day after the GOP leaves the city, the cops and the firefighters lose their leverage," one labor leader said on condition of anonymity.

In recent days, the police, fire and teachers unions, who have been working without contracts for two years, have manned 24-hour pickets at Madison Square Garden. The uniformed unions have become increasingly personal in their criticism of Bloomberg, papering police cars on Park Row yesterday with "Mayor Moneybags" leaflets.

"I think rather than trying to intimidate the city, which is just not going to happen, with all of these protests, they'd be better off ... trying to find productivity savings so that we can give them the extra 1 or 2 percent or even 3 percent," Bloomberg told reporters in Queens yesterday. "Yelling and screaming is just counterproductive."

Bloomberg has said he wants city unions to accept contracts based on District Council 37's recent deal providing 3 percent raises and $1,000 bonuses in return for work rule changes and lower starting salaries. That "is the best we can afford. It certainly is not going to get any better," the mayor said.

Eamon Farrell, 37, a 15-year police veteran who was at yesterday's demonstration, was incensed by the possibility of paying starting cops lower salaries.

"That's a good idea if you want to attract fry cooks at McDonald's," said Farrell, who works in the Bronx housing division. "If we veterans only wanted a raise we could get one tomorrow. But we don't want to sell out everybody who's just coming on the job."