July 20, 2004

Unions Take Contract Battle to Garden

Firefighters, Police, Teachers on Picket Line

Staff Reporter of the Sun

  CLEAR MESSAGE A New York City police officer walks a picket line yesterday.

Three of the city’s most prominent unions began a 24-hour demonstration of “informational picketing” around Madison Square Garden yesterday to raise awareness of the need for new contracts.

Protesters began circling the future site of the Republican National Convention at 7 a.m. yesterday, the same day organizers began their preparations for the big event in August. The leaders of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the United Federation of Teachers, and the Police Benevolent Association gathered for a rare joint press conference at 9:30 a.m. to make their message clear.

Police and firefighters have been without a deal for two years, and the teachers for almost a year, a situation the head of the UFA, Stephen Cassidy, called “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,” he said.

The mayor, speaking at a groundbreaking for a park at Hunts Point, Queens, called the demonstration a “waste of everyone’s time” and said it “just drives everybody further apart.”

“We don’t have any extra money. Let’s get that [straight],” he said. “This is very simple. All the protesting in the world is not going to change that fact.”

Off-duty police officers at the event seemed to feel that if the mayor didn’t have the money, they may not have the time.

“The city’s gonna ask us for a lot of hours,” said one officer, James Fico, referring to the extra security that will be needed during the convention. “They want work from us, they should pay us.”

The situation in New York City stands in stark contrast to the city of Boston, where the state labor board voted yesterday to force the city and the Police Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association into an expedited arbitration process. Assuming the police go along with the ruling, the arbitration would ensure an agreement before the Democratic convention, which begins Monday.

The protesters in New York City spent the rest of the day standing in front of the entrances to the arena and the nearby subway exits handing out leaflets and asking the public for support.

“We’re just hoping to get noticed,” said a Manhattan-based firefighter, Glenn Cloherty, standing near the steps of the Garden. “It seems like more of our support comes from outside the city than in it.”

Some members of the UFT were upset that they couldn’t get a new contract out of a Republican mayor while at the same time the Republican party was trumpeting improvements in education under President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act.

“They’re trying to use us for props,” said one UFT member, David Pecoraro. “We refuse to be used for props to elect a selected president.”