The “informational picket” made a cacophony of noise with airhorns, bullhorns, and cops hitting the street with two by fours. The police disrupted local business operations, impeded vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow, and of course, harassed the targeted Mayor’s Conference. Picketers have stuck to Menino like glue, they were at the Symphony on Sunday night, the Sheraton Hotel on Monday morning, and Kings Lanes on Monday night. A schedule of Menino events that have been targeted for pickets has been posted on the BPPA’s website.
In order to ensure the safety and well being of all citizens, officers on duty stood close by to monitor the demonstration (lazily chatting with coffee cups in hand).
picketers get rowdy while cops on duty drink coffee
Union members at the picket were pleased with presidential hopeful Senator John Kerry’s (D-MA) decision not to cross the picket line. Kerry declined to speak at noon on Monday at the Sheraton. Several Mayors, especially Thomas Menino, expressed their disappointment in Kerry’s action.
“It’s frustrating for me,” said Menino. “These two unions should have allowed John Kerry to go [across the picket line] because it would have helped him get elected… If they were committed the Democratic Party, then why did they do it? Why didn’t they give him the courtesy to pass and not force him to make this decision?”
Replacing Kerry at the podium inside was our beloved Governor Mitt Romney, who derided Kerry’s decision not to cross the line, “A mayor, a governor and a president have a responsibility for making tough decisions and balancing budgets," Mr. Romney said, according to The Associated Press. "Senators don't. You always want to support labor and the efforts of labor . . . but our first responsibility is to the people."
Off duty police officers began arriving shortly after 6pm, by the dozens. Some cruised in on shiny new Harleys donning hundred dollar Oakley sunglasses. Others, like the firefighters, arrived on Charter buses and were warmly greeted by the police in uniform often exchanging hugs, handshakes, and winks.
They took to the street with professionally made campaign-style signs attached to heavy, four foot long two-by-fours (used to bang against metal grates, police barricades, and the pavement) megaphones and air horns. One union man dressed up as an anarchist, “it’s a joke,” he said. They sought to answer a question, and their query was made public using a trick they no doubt picked up from the very anarchists they mock. Several picketers left the line, somehow managed to sneak by their police buddies assigned to watch them, and successfully dropped a large banner with their challenge emblazoned on it off of the parking garage behind King’s Lanes. It read: “How many mayors does it take to sign a contract?”
None of the “protesters” were arrested for the banner drop.
Christian Flynn from Harvard’s Institute of Politics and the son of a former cop, attended the Mayor’s Conference and expressed his disgust with the picket line. “This is embarrassing for the police,” he commented. Just then one of the picketing policeman yelled, “[Menino] is a closet Republican!” This was indeed an odd comment coming from a union whose president still cannot suppress a smile when gazing at a photo of him self and fellow members lined up with George H. W. Bush back when they endorsed him in ’88.
One is only left to wonder what Christian Flynn’s reaction would have been if he had hung around to view over 150 big, burly men quacking themselves hoarse from Boston Duck Tours vehicles as they drove by the picket outside Kings. Or when Elvis impersonator (obviously imitating the latter part of the King’s career) serenaded the Mayor’s Conference with the union’s demands. Or when one of the union leaders had a mock negotiation talk with a man-sized chicken named “Menino.”
Not everyone was appalled by the commotion in the Back Bay area. After expressing their complete support of the police’s picket, two upscale female employees from Verizon said, “When someone has a peaceful protest they are trying to bring about change.” They added, “They make practically nothing. They deserve more money.” Hmm, it’s all relative I suppose.
According to an article from Rich 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 the average US median yearly income of $18,756 (US Census bureau 2001). “On average in 2002…Boston officers are among the best-paid big-city cops in the nation.”
The BPPA union is seeking %18 percent pay raises over the next four years which they say would put them on a par to where Boston’s firefighters stand now, increasing their average salaries (with detail and overtime pay) to $87,908. But this does not tell the whole story. In 2000 the police union won a long battle that gave them the Quinn Bill, a piece of legislation that encourages the men in blue to go back to school giving earners of master’s, bachelor’s, and associate’s degrees raises of $13,200, $10,500, and $5,200 respectively. With the Quinn Bill the average police officer can earn more than the average firefighter does now if he or she acquires a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Back on the scene of Mondays informational picket, others passers by were undecided about the issue.
“It’s difficult to take a stand because there are labor issues involved, which I am supportive of; but, these are the same police officers who harass protesters for doing the same thing: exercising their first amendment rights” said one observer. While the picketing police were putting on their rowdy show, there were no reported harassments or arrests. The patty wagons, riot gear, and horses normally seen at protests were all curiously absent from the scene. The same observer, who asked to have their name withheld, continued, “I have been reading a lot about the issue…I feel like [the police officers] are using [the picket] to gain support for a significant pay increase…It seems selfish on all sides.”
Menino, stated that he would like to continue negotiations but is frustrated because “the BPPA’s lawyer is on vacation” and they cannot continue until the lawyer returns. But vacation or no vacation according to Jim Barry, a rep from the BPPA, “We will protest everything this mayor is hosting and sponsoring.”
Officers have been rotating shifts. According to one officer, “See those guys over there [in uniform], they were out here protesting earlier.” Due to the nature of their work, police officers and firefighters are not allowed by law to go on strike or withhold services.
“We would never withhold services,” said Police Officer Daniel Fagan moments prior to a chorus of God Bless America. “We will protect this city. We love this city.”
As guests of the Mayor’s Conference filed into Kings Lounge for dinner, the picketers chanted, “Scabs! Blind wizard! Don’t go in!”
A man named Howard who was attending the Conference and spoke about mayor solidarity said, “the only one who didn’t cross whatever that is over there is Kerry.”
When asked why people in attendance at the Mayor’s Conference were going inside Kings Lanes across the picket, guests reported that they felt there was “no connection between the two events” and did not feel that they were crossing a picket line.
The unions were however, easily successful at convincing Mayor Gregory Hill from Redondo Beach, California not to cross the picket line. This might have something to do with the fact that he is embroiled in a battle with his own greedy police force back home, they are demanding 90 percent of their salary during retirement.
Mayor Greg Hill from Redondo Beach
“Were do you want to eat? I’ll buy you dinner so you don’t have to eat there.” offered one picketing officer to Mayor Hill. Hill hesitated until another union member fastened a police lapel pin on his overcoat and then accepted the offer.
One of the other patrons of Kings, noting that the picketers were aggressively chanting at him to not go in the building said, “I am just a citizen. They don’t even know who I am.”
Additionally, the picketers taunted a just above minimum wage worker who said, “I am just trying to get home from work.”
After witnessing the days events, one might ask whether the rowdy crowd behind the barricade was a simply a bunch of rich, white, men throwing a fit or whether they were using their status as a labor organization at a critical time on a financially burdened city to influence a more than fair settlement. One might also ask whether their motivations are political rather than financial. This is a Democratic city in a Democratic state and union head Thomas Nee even claims Democratic party allegiance, yet those who have been assigned to protect and serve us all have chosen to block Kerry’s appearance in front of the country’s mayors where he might be expected to gain support. The Mayor’s no saint, after giving himself a 20% pay raise (to $150,000) in 2002 as the city’s finances plummeted, and Kerry’s no Peach either with his voting record, but this seems to be quite a bit more than a simple labor dispute. It is difficult to guess what will happen if the police and the city cannot come to an agreement before the DNC (and it is in both of their interests to do so). Protestors could be facing the National Guard, a complacent and cooperative police force, or the same old same old. After all, police have a long way to go before they will be happily shaking hands with protestors. In an article displayed on the BPPA website early this year “leftists” and anti-war protestors were referred to as “wastes of DNA” whose opinions were “bovine excrement” and likened to “self-flagellating…Islamists imported from Iran.”