August 11, 2004

Convention Could Be Marred by Strike

Police Officers, Firefighters Refuse to Rule Out Option

Staff Reporter of the Sun

Police officers and firefighters declared contract talks with the city at an impasse yesterday and refused to rule out a strike or sickouts during the Republican National Convention.

“Everyone has a limit, and the mayor needs to know we’re close to our limit,” the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, Stephen Cassidy, said at a press conference at City Hall yesterday.

A strike would break a promise union leaders made to Mayor Bloomberg that they would not picket during the political convention,when the city will be full of delegates and other tourists.

The announcement is part of a stepped up campaign to harass the mayor — not just on the steps of City Hall, but all over town. For weeks, off-duty police officers and firefighters have been showing up at mayoral events to pressure the mayor into agreeing to a contract more to their liking.

The city has offered police officers and firefighters the same deal forged with District Council 37 and several other smaller unions: a 5% raise plus $1,000 over three years. Some 2% of that increase is supposed to come from productivity enhancements such as longer hours or a change in vacation days or benefits for new hires.

Mr.Bloomberg,who has tried to ignore the unions’ more vocal tactics,has said he won’t be bullied into signing a bad contract. “The city doesn’t have money for raises,”he has said.“We would like to pay them more, but we can’t.”

Police officers have been working without a contract since July 31, 2002. Firefighters have been without one since May 31,2002.The situation fits a pattern of retroactive contracts and negotiations that routinely ignore expiration dates and end in arbitration. Now police officers and firefighters are saying even the arbitration has hit an impasse.

“Mike Bloomberg says we’re no different than people that push paper,” said Mr. Cassidy. “That’s a joke. It’s a disgrace. It’s an insult to the firefighters and police officers who risk their lives every day.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s spokesman, Ed Skyler, came out to meet the union officials on the steps yesterday and was greeted with jeers and then a chant of “Skyler Got a Raise,Skyler Got a Raise.”

“It doesn’t matter what tactics they use,” Mr. Skyler said after the City Hall demonstration.“The mayor isn’t going to be intimidated into making a bad deal.”

The question is whether police and fire unions will break their promise to the mayor, and the law, by striking during the Republican National Conventions at the end of the month.

If they do, they will be tearing a page out of the Boston Police Department’s playbook: they held Mayor Menino hostage by threatening to strike during the Democratic National Convention last month. The mayor buckled and forged a new contract before the delegates came to town.

“We must keep in mind that the frustration level is high and we cannot count anything out in our struggle,” said the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch.