Firefighters Contract Averts Boston Picketing

Boston firefighters reached a contract agreement Sunday with the city after a marathon session of negotiations, averting union picketing at delegation welcoming parties for the Democratic National Convention (search).

The firefighters were the last big city union left without a contract. In the days leading up to the convention on Monday, there had been concerns that union strife might interfere with the four-day event.

"We have labor peace in Boston at this hour," said Mayor Thomas Menino. "There's a climax to every story. This was the time to end this chapter."

The convention begins Monday, but delegates began descending on Boston (search) over the weekend. Scores of welcoming parties were planned throughout the city Sunday.

Unionized city police officers reached a four-year deal with the city several days ago, but had said they would still picket Sunday night delegation parties to show support for firefighters. Firefighter union leaders said they no longer intend to picket. And unionized police officers said they were backing off the threat as well.

"My understanding is that as long as we have a contract, there's not going to be any picketing," said Nicholas DiMarino, president of Boston Firefighters Local 718 (search).

The contract for the 1,450 unionized calls for raises of 10.5 percent for three years, Menino said.

The settlement ends any threat that Democratic delegates,officeholders and candidate, many of them sympathetic to union causes, will be put in the position of having to decide between attending an event or not crossing a picket line.

Jim Barry, the legislative agent for the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, said the 11th-hour deal with the city's firemen was evidence that Menino was intent on avoiding an embarrassing dilemma for union-friendly delegates.

The agreement with police officers was reached last week after it was sent to expedited arbitration. The police had sought 17 percent pay increase over four years, while the city's last would have provided 11. 9 percent. The independent arbitrator picked a figure roughly in the middle, 14.5 percent.

The firefighters' union, like its brethren nationally, has strong ties to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Boston's municipal labor unrest has presented a problem for the party, its labor-friendly delegates and Kerry for months. Faced with protesting officers at a recent mayor's conference, Kerry declined to cross their picket line to deliver a speech.

"Everybody looked around the room and smiled and felt like, finally, we can concentrate fully on the convention," Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said Sunday.

The 99-member Maryland delegation had said it would not attend any function that required crossing a picket line. Other state delegations had issued similar threats.