REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: Clock ticking on firefighter contract

The City Council has sixty days starting this week to vote on the firefighters’ arbitration award, receiving Mayor Thomas Menino’s appropriation for the deal awarded by an independent arbitrator and three analyses with different and nuanced views on the matter.

The arbitration awards 19.2 percent salary increase over four years, according to Menino, who outlined how the city is expected to pay for the deal in a letter to councillors on May 18. The award includes 2.5 percent increase in exchange for random drug and alcohol testing.

With the filing of the letter, the clock starts ticking on the 60 days the council has to vote on the deal.

Menino said the amount needed to fund the fiscal 2010 portion of the contract - $17.6 million – will come from collective bargaining reserves, with $1.5 million coming from the meals tax adopted last year. For fiscal years 2007 to 2009, the $28.9 million needed for the contract will also come from collective bargaining reserves. But the mayor added that the funding of the award makes his fiscal 2011 budget proposal out-of-balance. The fire department’s budget will end up increasing 4 percent, “at a time when most departmental budgets will decline or remain flat.”

As the 13-member council mulls an up-or-down vote on funding the contract – a ‘no’ vote would sent both the mayor and the union back to the start – three analyses are available to them. Most councillors have said they are still weighing the deal, though West Roxbury District Councilor John Tobin says he’s voting for the contract, while Dorchester District Councilor Chuck Turner is voting against it.

The latest analysis, from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor picked by City Council President Michael Ross, notes the “dysfunctional” relationship between the mayor and the Local 718 firefighters union and says that a vote is unlikely to solve the problem.

“My conversations with city and firefighter officials have made it clear that a straight up/down vote by the Council to fund/not fund the arbitration award will neither end this dispute nor put the parties on a course to transforming what is now a dysfunctional labor-management relationship into one that gets the parties working together to, among other things, ensure the new drug and alcohol policy realizes its full potential benefits to the city, the public, and the firefighters,” wrote Prof. Thomas Kochan.
“Instead, what is likely to occur is a protracted period of litigation that further delays implementation of a drug and alcohol program and payment of retroactive or prospective wage increases to the firefighters.”

Kochan said to avoid litigation, both sides should return to the bargaining table.

The Boston Finance Commission, an independent watchdog group, called the deal an “unreasonable burden” and urged the council to vote it down.

Separately, another watchdog, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said the deal would the future contracts of other city unions at a time of “fiscal uncertainty.”

Lynch challenger picks up campaign manager

The Milton Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston) has brought on a campaign manager, his campaign said Thursday.

Mac D'Alessandro recently gathered 5,000 signatures, which are being certified by local elections officials. Two thousand signatures are needed to get on the ballot.

The campaign manager, Deborah Shah, has worked on the campaigns of state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who beat Dianne Wilkerson, and Newton Mayor Setti Warren, who was up against state Rep. Ruth Balser. She served a brief stint as chief-of-staff to City Council President Michael Ross and had been working on Gov. Deval Patrick's re-election campaign as his deputy campaign manager for operations.

In his own statement, D'Alessandro said, “Deborah brings an outstanding record of political success and working on behalf of the Democratic values we all share. I am happy to have her managing my campaign, which will focus on the issues that matter to all of us, from holding health insurance companies and Wall Street accountable to creating good-paying jobs and protecting our civil rights.”

The Democratic primary is September 14.

Lynch, who has held the Massachusetts 9th Congressional seat since 2001, is also facing Republican Keith Lepor and Phil Dunkelbarger, a liberal independent who has unsuccessfully run for the seat before.

Endorsement Corner: Rep. Allen supporting Payne

Rep. Allen confirmed to the Reporter this week that she is backing fellow Democrat Payne for her seat. She said she knows Payne through her work as president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP.
“She’s up on the issues involved in her community and she’s compassionate,” Allen said. “And that’s what the community needs.” Allen is retiring after two terms in the House, saying she wants to spend more time with her family.

Quote of Note: Gov. Deval Patrick

“They did not run negative attack ads.” That was Gov. Deval Patrick referring to the Patriot Majority, an independent Democratic group that ran negative against his Republican opponent in 2006, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey. The ads, seeking to tie Healey to the unpopular President George W. Bush, said: “She abused the power of her office. Now she won’t take responsibility for what she’s said and done. Sound familiar?” Patrick said those weren’t negative at a press conference this week where he decried the Republican Governors Association’s recent negative ads that have led Treasurer Timothy Cahill, an independent running for governor, to fall in the polls. Patrick’s campaign acknowledged after the press conference that the Patriot Majority’s 2006 ads were indeed negative.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop.