Angry picketers heckle Menino
By Kevin Joy and Donovan Slack of Boston Globe, Associated Press Contributed To This Story., 1/14/2004
Under heavy police guard, Mayor Thomas M. Menino was shuttled through a gantlet of yelling union protesters last night, his SUV traveling between metal barricades that held back the crowds along Berkeley Street on route to John Hancock Hall. The mayor was heckled as he walked into the hall, his wife, Angela, at his side.
The thousands of union members who surrounded the building waved signs, chanted, and hollered at dignitaries in protest of the unions' protracted contract dispute with the mayor. "Shame, Mr. Mayor! Shame on you!" yelled members of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, who are in an especially heated battle with Menino.
Although the protest targeted the mayor's State of the City speech, the threat looming in the frigid air and seized upon by the protesters was clear -- if the city does not give them raises, there could be disruption at this summer's Democratic National Convention.
Protesters shouting "No contracts, no peace!" broke into a chant of "No contracts, no convention!" "After tonight, the day of reckoning is coming," said Lou Mandarini, president of the Greater Boston Labor Council, to roaring applause. "There will be no work done on this convention until he negotiates fairly and treats us right."Others suggested Menino is refusing to give them raises so he can spend city dollars on the convention -- an assertion the mayor denies. Thomas J. Nee, president of the patrolmen's association, said the mayor is focused on using city resources for the convention's "five days of fun," for "the sole purpose of building his legacy and making himself a star on the national stage." The scene was boisterous, as union members -- including teachers, police officers, mechanics, and firefighters -- chanted and held an alternative "state of the city" address."
There were no arrests, said police, who brought in officers on horseback to help control the demonstration, which stretched along Berkeley Street from Columbus Avenue to the FAO Schwarz toy store on Boylston Street.
Police estimated the crowd size at between 2,500 and 3,000. The unions said there were 5,000 people.
The crowd erupted in anger when well-known dignitaries and politicians walked in, such as state Treasurer Tim Cahill, a Democrat, upon whom union members rained insults. Other officials included Governor Mitt Romney, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly.
When Janice Loux, president of the Hotel, Restaurant, Institutional Employees and Bartenders Union Local 26, walked into the hall, a protester screamed "We'll see you in hell!"
Loux was the sole city union leader to support Menino by attending the speech.
The clash outside was reminiscent of Menino's 2001 address, when the mayor was escorted into the hall by police as more than 2,000 firefighters picketed outside, demanding a fair contract.
This year, however, 32 unions representing about 17,000 municipal workers are without contracts. The workers stressed that the lack of progress is hurting them financially.
"This is a slap in the face of the good worker," said Susana Segat, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 888, who said many of her members take more than one job to pay their bills. Segat called the unsettled contracts "nothing less than an injustice."
"It's not just about money. It's about fairness," Segat said. "We keep this city running."
The union members were bundled up against the cold, and organizers handed out handwarmers and cups of Dunkin' Donuts coffee.
None of the 13 city councilors, who are in solidarity with the protesting workers, attended the speech.
City Councilor at Large Maura Hennigan, a frequent critic of the mayor, was on the front line of the protest, near the entrance door. She called on Menino to get personally involved in the negotiations to move them forward.
"These people work hard each and every day to provide services for our city," said Hennigan, of Jamaica Plain. "It's disappointing they had to put themselves in a position out here tonight in the cold weather." Seth Gitell, spokesman for Menino, said the demonstration would not affect the mayor's approach to contract negotiations.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.