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Commentary :: DNC : Labor : Organizing
The John Kerry Has Been Fumbled!
02 Jul 2004
Modified: 02:18:45 PM
The Sport of Boston’s Labor Woes

“The John Kerry has been fumbled!” Menino has dropped the John Kerry! And right there to pick it up is Thom Nee… he’s got a good line of BPPA defenders and… they're taking it down the field… to the Mayor’s 20… the 30… and Menino’s got him now! Down at the Mayor’s 42-yard line. More of the big game after this message…”

At first, the frat-like chanting coming from the BPPA informational picket in front of the Mayor’s conference last Sunday sounded “like a football game,” as one of the attendees of the conference put it. But this was no football game.

Or was it?
“The John Kerry has been fumbled!” Menino has dropped the John Kerry! And right there to pick it up is Thom Nee… he’s got a good line of BPPA defenders and… they're taking it down the field… to the Mayor’s 20… the 30… and Menino’s got him now! Down at the Mayor’s 42-yard line. More of the big game after this message…”

At first, the frat-like chanting coming from the BPPA informational picket in front of the Mayor’s conference last Sunday sounded “like a football game,” as one of the attendees of the conference put it. But this was no football game.

Or was it?

Maybe the situation in Boston IS a game: a big, expensive, ego-jostling, contest. One team is comprised of star quarterback Mayor Thomas Menino and city hall, arguing that Boston lacks the funds for a 17 percent pay raise for the police and playing a great defensive game. The other team, with coach Thomas J. Nee of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (BPPA), BPPA union members and other city unions without contracts, is arguing that the police have gone long enough without a contract and won’t be silenced any longer. They’re a much bigger, burlier, and rougher team with a strong offense.

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) seems to be the ball, and the people of Boston are stuck on the sidelines trying to decide who to root for after paying exorbitant prices for tickets and hot dogs.

Menino fumbled Kerry early on Monday, when Kerry did not cross the picket line at the US Conference of Mayors. Nee saw the Mayor juggling the ball and took advantage with a quick grab. Evoking images of the championship trophy, the police union president commented, “Kerry was on a “pedestal” among union members because of the cancellation.”

Kerry attributed his new ownership to plain “diplomacy,” and stated his hopes for progress in the contract talks. But with the roar of the crowd and the intensity of the game, who can hear the ball talking?

Menino, on the day of the play, blamed it on the slipperiness of the John Kerry, stating that, “Maybe they [the Kerry Campaign] should use some of their energies to get their message across to the American people instead of trying to destroy the integrity of someone who is on their team…They have better things to do.” In a Boston Herald article two days later, the mayor, sounding rather irate, complained again, “We are all on the same team, I thought. Evidently, we’re not. This is typical of small-minded individuals who have to create controversy.” Far be it for me, a common citizen, to reprimand the mayor, but I think blaming the ball for the play is dodging responsibility.

The BPPA had an aggressive strategy, “informational picketing,” which includes activities such as air horn use, bullhorn use, and the rapping of four-foot long two-by fours against the pavement and barricades, heckling and intimidation of passer-bys as well as appearances on Monday night by Elvis and a man in a chicken suit named “Menino.” Who would’ve had a contingency play for that move? Add a banner drop and some heavy vehicles full of supporters at the event, via Boston Duck Tours, (who incidentally have been supporters of the police for years but claim neutrality on the issue), and we have a full-fledged blitz!

Picketing police pulled out all the stops and didn’t let a thing get in their way, they disrupted local businesses and residents, hindered vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and harassed anyone thinking about crossing the picket line, including mayors visiting for the weekend attending the US Conference of Mayors.

This was the genius of it all, the “informational picketing” call at the snap was all a smokescreen. Hell, I didn’t even see a table or receive any kind of informative literature explaining the situation in logical terms with independent sources. What I did receive was a double-sided multi-colored handout which says on the front, “Greetings from Meninoville,” with a picture of the mayor squinting and smirking with “Paid for by the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association,” at the bottom. On the back it says, “Your Guide To The 2003 Meninoville State Of The City Address,” which lists goals the mayor achieved and goals he’d like to achieve such as, “Take a nap,” or “Improved Golf Handicap,” or “Threatened Public Safety By Cutting Our Police Force,” or “Pick Out An Outfit For The DNC,” or, a favorite of mine, “Take Credit For The Sunshine.”

The mayor had his own propaganda of course. His well dressed press secretary, Seth Gitell, handed my colleague a snappy packet of information composed of articles from the Boston Globe sympathetic to the city and the mayor, and memos from the mayor’s negotiating team attempting to settle with the police, seemingly showing that the record was there, and that the city did everything it could to end the labor dispute. From the city’s point of view, it’s those cops who won’t negotiate! But as true as that claim may be, the play went to the cops this week.

Since we’re now on the topic of negotiations, just what kind of numbers are we talking about here? According to an article published by Rick Klein and Kevin Joy that appeared in the Boston Globe on 3/29/04, ‘Boston’s rank-and-file police officers brought home $78,906’ including detail and overtime pay. Compare that to information Jen Killham of sites: the average US median yearly income of $18,756 (US Census bureau 2001). And you might be wondering what all the fuss is about.

Now, the astute editor at the Big Muddy IMC decided to do some extra legwork and stated in an editorial note at the bottom of Killham’s article, that, “Officer Jim Barry, the "Legislative Agent" for the BPPA, strongly disputed the accuracy of the numbers provided by the Boston Globe. Barry claimed that the base salary of a Boston police officer in the first three years is just over $53K, a difference of about $25K. Barry stated that a minority of officers that work loads of overtime exaggerate the numbers and don't reflect the average officer's salary in a city with an extremely high cost of living.” But Killham had already noted that the average of $78,906 included overtime and detail work, and this is one estimate of the average, so what is the range?

On June 15, the Boston Globe published an Op-Ed by Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. He states: “In calendar 2003, the average compensation for a BPPA officer was $82,100 based on an average regular pay of $52,900 with overtime, paid detail, and Quinn Bill added.” Mr. Tyler doesn’t seem to be debating the “average” or “base salary” of $53K of a BPPA member, but with incentives such as overtime and the Quinn Bill, that base tends to skyrocket high above the national median of the average worker. “That year [2003] the highest paid officer made $152,373 on a base pay of $56,145, overtime of $25,611, paid detail of $59,282, and Quinn Bill payments [the Quinn Bill pays police to go back to school to achieve higher degrees of education thereby increasing their pay] of $10,685. In fact, 267 patrol officers received $100,000 or more and 469 officers were paid $90,000 or more last year.” That’s a lot of money any way you want to cut it. That’s a lot of incentive to fight tooth and nail for a 17 percent pay raise, including picketing the US Conference of Mayors. And if you’ve chosen a team by now, you may have some allies in folks who were at the events on Monday.

Perhaps, you feel that any pay raise is a good raise, especially when these “servants” are there to protect you. Just as two well-dressed women from Verizon Corporation thought, applauding the police in their efforts to secure a pay raise. One stated, “When someone has a peaceful protest they are trying to bring about change.” The other added, “They make practically nothing. They deserve more money.”

Or you may have that anti-union/anti-demonstration air about you, making sure people around you know it, but won’t take a few minutes to explain why you feel that way. One woman I overheard crossing the picket line to enter the mayoral festivities at Kings Lanes on Monday night exclaimed: “That’s so anti-American!” in reference to the picketers. She was wearing a bright red sweater with “USA” embroidered on the back in big, sparkly letters. Patriotism. Hmmm.

Another version would come from the veteran protestor “Ha! We would never be allowed to get away with any of this. Who’s policing the police?!”

But regardless of how you feel, does it matter? We, on the sidelines, never seem to get to discuss the playbook or coach the team. Where’s our fantasy football?

And here is my point. Instead of viewing the dispute between the police union and the city as a spectator sport to be watched and rooted for at our favorite local drinking establishment, we need to engage in the politics surrounding this dispute while taking back what it means to have, and participate in, a meaningful democracy from those who would make such a serious issue simply a spectator sport.

People like the mayor or the police union officials who seem to be corrupted by their own greed and desire to be in the media spotlight don’t care about what citizens and community leaders think should happen in their own communities. If I sound like I’m preaching too much it might have to do with the frustration I feel about the mainstream media. They just don’t report what citizens are feeling in a positive frame. I saw established media like Channel 5, Channel 7, Channel 4, WB 56, and New England Cable News cuddle up with the police and their spokespeople, only then to then run to the mayor and his spokespeople attempting to get the head shot with Menino asking inane and pointless questions which don’t hold the people that we have elected to any kind of accountability. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only tenable position for me to take is one where all sides are suspect. What we should be demanding, is that any kind of substantial pay or benefit increases, affect the most people possible, while at the same time, correlating increases with better service and more outreach based on consensus generated by the community, not the authorities. We are in dire need of a new system of operating that includes the community instead of sidelining us while the city and police point fingers at each other.

This work is in the public domain