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July 17, 2004
Boston Labor Dispute Worsens

In a city controlled by Democrats for decades, with its close ties to labor unions, the debacle on the horizon for the Democratic Nominating Convention continues to grow. The Washington Post reports that Republican Governor Mitt Romney had to step in to replace the head of the arbitration board, fearful that the high-risk convention would become vulnerable to attack due to police unions focusing on picketing rather than security:

Both sides of the labor dispute have been meeting with the state's Joint Labor Management Committee, a mediation body, which was seeking to broker an agreement and had voted to appoint an outside arbitrator.

But this week, Gov. Mitt Romney (R) intervened by replacing the acting head of the management committee, citing a concern that the dispute would not be resolved before the convention. "Public safety personnel during the Democratic National Convention should be focused entirely on security, not manning a picket line," he said.

National labor officials are pressuring both sides to reach a quick conclusion, but so far neither side has budged. Mayor Thomas Menino has offered an 12% increase to the police and firefighters over the next four years -- about 3% a year, about what you'd expect in the private sector. The unions insist on 17%. Menino has said he wants the dispute resolved before the convention, but he won't mortgage the city budget to do it.

As you might imagine from the labor-friendly Democrats, the paradox of crossing picket lines to support the working class is an irony they do not long to experience. Already, the largest delegation (California) has announced that they do not intend on crossing picket lines, and several more look to follow suit:

When Mayor Thomas M. Menino (D) welcomes delegates to the Democratic National Convention here, the chairman of the California delegation plans to stand up and walk out.

Art Torres has asked the rest of his state's 541 delegates, alternates and committee members to leave with him as a show of solidarity with Boston police and firefighters, who are locked in a bitter contract dispute with Menino that threatens to disrupt the convention. "I don't know what other message to give to this mayor that workers who protect our lives deserve a contract," Torres said. ...

The unions have written to all the state delegations asking them not to cross their picket lines. The leaders of at least six -- North Dakota, Maine, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and California, the nation's largest -- have said they will avoid picketed events and will encourage their delegates to do likewise, which has led organizers to contemplate cancellations. Ohio delegation chairman Dennis L. White wrote the police union this week that he and his staff are prepared to join the walkout on Menino.

Thanks to John Kerry's last-minute cancellation at the Mayors' Conference last month in Boston, embarrassing his ally Menino, the unions are unlikely to demonstrate on the night that Kerry receives the nomination, helping him to avoid the difficult choice of either crossing a picket line or creating the singular image of a candidate accepting his party's nomination by satellite linkup. However, Kerry and Edwards and other high-profile Democrats will need to enter the convention hall early and often to fire up the troops and try to build the momentum needed for a convention boost. If they have to cross picket lines to do it, they will infuriate some of the rank and file and generate divisiveness in the midst of their unity festival.

As I noted earlier, national labor leadership wants this resolved quickly before it embarrasses all parties involved:

About 12 percent, or 500 of the 4,352 delegates to the convention, are union members, according to the AFL-CIO. The top brass of the AFL-CIO will be in Boston and will not cross the lines, said Lane Windham, spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO.

But the labor federation does not want the convention's events to be interrupted. AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney has spoken to the police and firefighters' unions and to the mayor, Windham said, in an effort to resolve the labor dispute.

And to top off the angst, key demographic groups within the party have begun to complain that the inability to get a deal done will harm them as well as the convention:

But if resolution is not reached, Jeff Zack, a spokesman for the Firefighters International Union, said some union-sponsored events that Menino planned to attend might be postponed or canceled. Concerned about that possibility, a number of women- and minority-owned businesses doing work for the convention warned Friday at a news conference that any picketing would be damaging to them.

"The truth of the matter is: By boycotting these parties, they really are hurting some of the core people who are part of the Democratic Party," said Colette Phillips, whose communications company is planning a $100,000 jungle-themed party for the California delegation in the Franklin Park Zoo.

This situation used to be funny. Now it's just another demonstration of how the Democrats get tied up in the competing demands of their special interests and wind up producing little but gridlock and animosity. Fortunately for Bostonians and the Democrats, a Republican governor is on hand to actually take action to push for a resolution.

What a great microcosm of our current political state!

UPDATE: Expect to see some temporary outward migration from Boston during the convention. Captain Chaz (how many captains are out there, anyway?) plans on fleeing the mayhem with family in tow, and hopes everyone doesn't have the same idea. Only the sane ones, Chaz, only the sane ones.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 17, 2004 8:04 AM

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