New York 1 News

August 19, 2004

Police, Firefighters, Teachers Picketing At MSG

The Republican National Convention is still more than a month away, but firefighters, police officers and teachers have begun the demonstrations at Madison Square Garden.

Rally    

On Monday morning, the unions representing the three groups of city workers launched 10 days of what they are calling “informational picketing” about their stalled negotiations for new contracts. The demonstrations are scheduled to continue around the clock, coinciding with the beginning of preparations for the GOP Convention.

“We need to get a contract for our members,” said Pat Lynch, the head of the city’s largest police union. “It’s been two years since New York City police officers and our firefighters had a contract, and teachers have been without one for a year. That’s just absolutely unfair. There has not been one negotiating session in which the city came to the table prepared to talk realistically with these unions. That needs to be changed, and we need the public to know that.”

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the United Federation of Teachers are all seeking raises and better benefits. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the city's finances are tight and any raises must be offset by productivity gains and givebacks.

“The first thing you have to have is responsible labor leaders who want to come to the table and try to find ways for us to generate cash, which we don’t have, to pay our municipal workforce,” the mayor said. “Going and picketing, informational or any kind of picketing, around Madison Square Garden seems to me to be just wasting everybody's time.”

The three unions also staged a joint rally outside City Hall last month. They are threatening to stage protests during the convention if the city doesn't meet their demands.

“Now, on a national level, the Republican National Convention is coming New York, and we intend to inform the whole country that the heroes of 9/11, who risked their lives and died in record numbers, don’t have a contract,” said Steve Cassidy, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. “And people around the country can’t understand how there is no contract with a Republican mayor in a Republican-controlled state with a Republican governor with the Republicans coming to town.”

The Republican National Convention will take place at Madison Square Garden from August 30 to September 2.

“The mayor wants to bring the convention here to put the spotlight on the city, but he refuses to pay the cops and the firefighters, which would give him the right to put that spotlight on it,” said another picketer.

Police officers and firefighters say they deserve better compensation, adding that a new contract is necessary to prevent colleagues from leaving the city.

“In the wake of 9/11, the job that we do every day is dramatically different,” said one of the protestors. “There are terror alerts and things of that nature. We do more, and we’re doing it with less. We’re losing people everyday to outside agencies that are paying much more money than New York City.”

In Boston, police are going out of their way to make Mayor Thomas Menino look bad. Boston is hosting the Democratic National Convention, and police have promised to picket at events Menino attends.

Delegates are already struggling to decide whether to skip the receptions to support the union. This has put Democratic leaders in a difficult position. They want a successful convention, but they don't want to cross any picket lines and risk alienating organized labor.

Last month, picket lines brought construction at the Fleet Center to a three-day halt and recently kept John Kerry from speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which Menino hosted.

Bloomberg isn't facing that kind of bad publicity, at least not yet. For now, the unions just want to put as much pressure on him as possible.