Maura In The News

Menino still faces pickets for speech

By Andrea Estes, Globe Correspondent , 1/13/2004

As Mayor Thomas M. Menino tonight delivers his State of the City Address, thousands of union workers plan to picket outside in a public showdown hinting at the disruption in store if the city doesn't settle contracts with 17,000 union members by Democratic National Convention in July.

Despite last-minute efforts, city and union officials yesterday said the chances of settling contracts before tonight's speech were slim.

"Unless something surprising occurs, there will be no announcements before the State of the City Address," said chief operating officer Dennis DiMarzio.

The Boston Police Patrolmen's Association began assembling signs that said "DNC -- Democrats Negotiate Contracts" and distributing fliers titled, "Greetings from Meninoville." The flier cites among Menino's plans for 2004: "Pick Out an Outfit for the DNC. Get Haircut for the DNC and Take a Nap."

Administration officials yesterday asked labor leaders who don't represent city employees to buck labor protocol and attend the speech. But according to several city and labor officials, only Janice Loux, head of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 26, a longtime ally of the mayor, plans to cross the picket line.

Reflecting the municipal unions' political muscle, all 13 city councilors will skip the event, though most said they will stay away from the union protest in deference to the mayor. They plan to watch the speech together from another location. "I won't be out on the picket line out of my respect for the mayor," said Councilor James Kelly, who said he has been trying to broker a deal between the unions and Menino during the last week. "Out of respect for the men and women of organized labor, I'm certainly not going to cross the picket line."

But Councilor at Large Maura Hennigan said she'll snub the mayor. "I will join the employees, she said. "As a former teacher, I can appreciate their frustration. When you see the kind of waste that goes on in different departments, it's hard to believe we're dealing with a bare bones budget."

In his speech, Menino is expected to reprise the role of "urban mechanic" pledging to improve basic city services such as education, public safety, and housing, sources said.

Though he will mention July's mammoth political convention, his aides say, he will be speaking more to the people who won't be going to any delegate parties -- residents who have been hit with huge property tax increases and employees working without contracts.

"The speech provides an optimistic vision of the city's future," said Menino spokesman Seth Gitell. "He talks about jobs, education, housing, and the challenges of running the city in the midst of change."

The speech was written in part by former Globe columnist David Nyhan, who Gitell said has worked with the mayor and others in composing this and other State of the City addresses. Gitell did not name the other speechwriters but said none of them are being paid for their help.

He would not offer specifics, but former city councilor Michael McCormack said that Menino will stress improving delivery of basic city services. "His theme has been the urban mechanic . . . and he's going to stay on message," he said. Menino will focus on meat-and-potato issues, say aides, to reinforce his standing with the people who elected him. Focusing on the Democratic National Convention or downtown development would rub salt in the wounds of residents still reeling from huge property tax increases and employees who are working without contracts.

At the heart of the city's dispute with its 32 unions is whether the city can afford to give workers the raises they want.

Yesterday city officials assembled facts and figures to try to prove the money isn't there. The Boston Police Patrolmen's union is wrong when it says the city is sitting on $400 million in reserves, they said.

"It's unfortunate the unions continue to focus on the wrong number," said the city's chief financial officer, Lisa Signori. "That number doesn't take into account actions the city has to take to meet state law requirements or to pay for goods and services we've already received but haven't paid for."

The city can afford $17 million for the first year to settle 32 labor agreements, which translates into raises of roughly 2 percent a year for every city worker, Signori said, adding that unions are looking for much more.

"That is what the city thinks it can afford in the current situation," she said. "Like in your personal life, you don't set yourself up with obligations you don't have money to sustain."

Signori also said many city workers are still receiving step increases contained in earlier contracts -- to the tune of $10 million a year -- even though their contracts have expired.

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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