The New York Times

July 17, 2004

Unions Plan to Picket Site of Republican Convention


Three of New York City's most prominent unions - the police, the firefighters and the teachers - plan to begin round-the-clock picketing at Madison Square Garden on Monday to protest their lack of a contract.

The three unions have decided to picket the Garden, the site of the Republican National Convention next month, to pressure Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg into improving his wage offer and to bring attention to their cause.

"We're doing this to deliver our message to all New Yorkers," said Stephen J. Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. "The Republicans are coming to bask in the glow of Sept. 11, and yet the firefighters and police officers who died in record numbers and continue to be the frontline defenders for this city haven't had a contract for more than two years."

Union officials said they had been planning to file a lawsuit yesterday because, in their view, the Police Department was violating their constitutional rights by saying that no more than 46 union members could picket on the block surrounding the Garden.

But the city avoided litigation when it lifted that limit after negotiations between the unions and the corporation counsel's office. The city agreed to let 150 to 200 people picket and distribute fliers outside the Garden so long as they stood at least 20 feet apart. In addition, the city agreed that several hundred more union members could picket near the corner of Eighth Avenue and 33rd Street.

Union officials said the picketing on Monday would coincide with the beginning of preparatory construction work for the convention. The picketing is scheduled to last 10 days, but union officials said it might continue until the convention ends on Sept. 2.

Labor leaders said the unions would engage in informational picketing and would not ask New Yorkers to honor the picket line. Union leaders acknowledged that if they asked other workers, most notably the construction workers responsible for convention preparations, to honor the picket line, that would violate a pledge that the city's Central Labor Council and construction unions had made to the city. To help lure the convention and its economic benefits, they promised there would be no work stoppages that disrupted the event.

"Right now, I don't anticipate any disruption," said Brian McLaughlin, president of the labor council, the umbrella group for the city's unions.

The police, firefighters and teachers are resisting Mr. Bloomberg's demand that they accept the same 5 percent raise over three years accepted by the largest municipal union, District Council 37. Leaders from the three unions assert that they deserve more than D.C. 37 received because of the difficulties in recruiting and retaining teachers and police officers and because of the heroism that the police and firefighters displayed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

Mr. Bloomberg has said that the city's budget problems mean that it cannot afford the larger raises sought by the teachers, police and firefighters.

Noting that the Republicans want to honor the heroes of Sept. 11, Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said, "The mayor is insulting the very people that the Republicans want to honor during their convention."

City Hall officials urged the unions to negotiate, rather than demonstrate. Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, said: "New York's firefighters and police officers will be better served by leaders who negotiate at the bargaining table. Unfortunately, the only thing these guys know how to do is blow hot air."

Officials with the Republican National Convention seemed unfazed by next week's picketing.

Leonardo Alcivar, a convention spokesman, said, "We have enjoyed from Day 1 a terrific relationship with labor in New York."

He added, "It would be disappointing for anyone to use 9/11 as a bargaining tool for the purposes of labor negotiations."

In Boston, the main police union briefly disrupted preparations for the Democratic National Convention, to be held there later this month, by demonstrating outside the Fleet Center, the site of the event. That union has threatened to picket wherever Boston's mayor, Thomas M. Menino, goes during the Democrats' convention.

The Boston Police Patrolmen's Association has rejected his offer of an 11.9 percent raise over four years. It is seeking a raise of 16 to 18 percent.