July 31, 2004

Tactic: pop-up protests

Unions forge effort to show without notice at mayor's citywide appearances to nudge stalled contract talks

BY WILLIAM MURPHY STAFF WRITER Staff writer Sean Gardiner contributed to this story.

Police and firefighters seeking a new labor contract will switch protest tactics and pop up at public appearances by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, their unions said Friday.

Both unions confirmed the change, and said they also might appear unannounced at street fairs, carnivals and other public events.

The Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association decided on the change after picketing at Madison Square Garden for 10 days. They did not rule out more protests there, and said they would be back in force at the Garden during the Republican National Convention Aug. 30-Sept. 2.

"Clearly, as our members go around the city they realize that a lot of New Yorkers just don't know ... that our guys haven't had a pay raise since before the Sept. 11 attack, both our guys and police officers," fire union spokesman Tom Butler said.

Union sources said that on the advice of lawyers, they were describing the tactic as "pop-up informational picketing." They declined to elaborate.

One union source said the protesters hoped to make their appearances a surprise by having "floating locations" where they could show up quickly.

About 250 members of both unions blocked a City Hall gate for 15 minutes Wednesday.

The city has offered the unions a $1,000 bonus and a five percent wage increase over three years. The unions are seeking a higher wage increase.

Union officials hope the new tactic will bring public pressure to bear on the mayor.

"We will be engaging, with the firefighters, in pop-up informational picketing around the city," police union spokesman Joseph Mancini said.

Other sources in the police union said some members of its executive board showed up outside the mayor's home Friday morning, but not to protest.

They said their members were upset with a report about a plan, later retracted, to send "Operation Atlas" anti-terrorism cops to the house if off-duty police protested there.

The switch in tactics came just as the Democratic National Convention ended and the political focus shifted toward the Republican gathering.

During his weekly radio show Friday on WABC/770 AM, Bloomberg said the impasse resulted from union leaders who were afraid of losing their leadership posts. He said the picketing "does absolutely nothing to influence labor relations ... If you want to picket me, picket me. I guess it gives the newspapers something to write about."

Staff writer Sean Gardiner contributed to this story.