updated 7/19/2004 4:26:15 PM ET 2004-07-19T20:26:15

The state’s labor management board voted unanimously Monday to send the contract dispute between the city and its police union to immediate, expedited arbitration, paving the way for the conflict to be resolved before next week’s Democratic National Convention.

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The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association has been without a contract for two years and has threatened to disrupt the convention festivities by setting up picket lines at events attended by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, including the 29 delegation parties scheduled for Sunday night.

The arbitrator’s ruling would be binding and cannot be appealed. The police association opposes allowing a third-party arbitrator to resolve the dispute, saying that would usurp the union members’ ability to vote on a new contract.

Union president Thomas Nee called the vote “absolutely outrageous,” pointing out that the Joint Labor Management Committee voted on the matter last week and opted not to send the matter to expedited arbitration. Nee said the union would escalate its protest for the convention and would reconsider its decision not to picket outside the convention site itself.

The police are asking for a pay increase of 17 percent over four years, while the city is offering 11.9 percent.

The labor board’s 4-0 vote included board members representing organized labor. The panel assigned independent arbitrator Lawrence T. Holden to report back with a contract by Thursday. The convention is scheduled to begin July 26, four days later, at the FleetCenter.

The four members of the labor board met privately Monday in the first meeting overseen by its new chairman, retired Judge Samuel Zoll. Republican Gov. Mitt Romney abruptly appointed Zoll last week after the board voted to send the conflict to arbitration but denied the city’s request for an expedited schedule.

The union sent a letter to the nearly 5,000 delegates to the convention, asking them to honor picket lines and boycott Menino’s address. Menino sent his own letter to delegates, saying that the picket lines are only “informational” and should not deter anyone from attending parties or events.

Police picket lines led to a three-day shutdown of construction at the convention site last month and recently deterred hometown candidate John Kerry from addressing the U.S. Mayors Conference in Boston, which Menino hosted.

The prospect of delegates facing a picket line at convention events worried Democratic leaders. Those from Connecticut, Maine and Tennessee said Monday they doubted delegates from their states would defy protesting union members. Others sidestepped the problem, saying they believe the dispute will be resolved before delegates arrive.

“I personally would not cross a picket line and I expect most delegates would not,” Connecticut Democratic State Chairman George Jepsen said. “Just knowing the delegation, I think most delegates would be disinclined to cross a picket line.”

Tennessee Democratic Chairman Randy Button said, “We don’t think we should be crossing picket lines that would be placed at the venues.”

Although the Michigan delegation has not decided whether it would cross a picket line, it has planned an alternate party in case police picket the welcome party set up by Menino, Michigan Democratic Executive Chairman Mark Brewer said.

While expressing their support for labor, other state leaders said they expect a resolution soon.

“I’m confident that labor and management officials will redouble their efforts in the coming days and resolve their issues in good faith,” said Barry Rubin, executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party. “We respect the rights of our delegates to express their opinions however they wish, but we hope it will not reach that point.”

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