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News :: DNC
Rats, reports and rush hour at Madison Square Garden
22 Jul 2004
Giant inflatable rats, a tall tell sign of a labor dispute, adorned the side streets of Madison Square Garden as New York City teachers, firefighters and police officers picketed for a contract. Today, the 9/11 Commission released its report and it bolsters some of the uniformed worker’s grievances in contract negotiations with the city. The union trio has created somewhat of an odd couple. Historically insular and at times reactionary, New York’s bravest and finests’ associations joined a fiery and angry teacher’s union to denounce Mayor Bloomberg’s stalling on contract negotiations.

Firefighters and police officers have been without a contract for two years, and the teachers have not had an agreement since May of 2003. The three unions are picketing all week.

Amongst the rush hour roar around Madison Square Garden, union member and teacher of 19 years, Anne Lipke past out fliers and she and her co-workers vetted frustrations towards anyone who would listen. Anne is not the only one in her family who is left without a contract.

“My son is NYPD, my husband is CUNY (professor’s union) and we don’t have a contract.”

Police officers were shy about speaking, perhaps cognizant of having to return to Madison Square Garden in a month to be on the opposite side of the picketing. Police in Boston, where the Democratic Convention will take place later this month, also want a contract.

Firefighters are quick to point out they have not received a pay raise in the time after the terrorist attacks. More striking is that on the day of the 9/11 Commission’s report, firefighters claim they are working with outdated walkie talkies and fire trucks.

The 9/11 Commission’s report is highly critical of poor radio frequencies on the day of the Twin Tower attacks. Poor frequencies in high rises and the volume of traffic over firefighters’ radios made communication difficult and agitated an already chaotic scene according the report.

“As units climbed higher, their ability to communicate with chiefs on tactical 1 became more limited and sporadic both because of the limited effectiveness of FDNY radios in high rises and because so many units on tactical 1 were trying to communicate at once. When trying to reach a particular unit, chiefs in the lobby often heard nothing in response.”

Firefighters were blunter about their equipment.

“We’re driving a 1990 tower ladder-it’s a piece of crap. We hope when we pull up to a building it works,” said Mike Morrisesy, a veteran firefighter in Astoria, Queens of 19 years.

Teachers listed multiple grievances of class size, pay, retention of new teachers and the Bush and Bloomberg administrations’ educational policies.

“Many schools were cut millions of dollars. We lost teachers and supplies-and he [Bloomberg] wants to be know as the education mayor,” said Judith Glazer a teacher of 21 years in Queens.

Mayor Bloomberg wants any raises with the teachers tied to increased productivity, namely longer work days, and cuts in entry level beat cop wages. The mayor has offered a 5% raise and a $1,000 upfront bonus over a three year contract. Other municipal unions signed contracts with similar language.

“Going and picketing, informational or any kind of picketing, around Madison Square Garden seems to me to just be wasting everybody’s time and drives everybody further apart,” Mayor Bloomberg said in the Daily News.

However the symbolism of picketing the place where the nation’s Republicans will assemble is not lost.

“The mayor and every politician in the city are the first to line up at funerals and tell us how great we are and are the last to sit down and bargain. Republicans are coming to the city for a reason. We are here to say [to Bush] you should call the Republican mayor and have him sit down with us.”

Straight talking United Firefighter’s Association trustee Steve Humeneski in not holding his breath for any calls from the White House.

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