updated 7/20/2004 11:29:19 AM ET 2004-07-20T15:29:19

Labor’s unified front showed signs of cracking when the Massachusetts labor board decided to send the conflict between the city and its police union to immediate arbitration just days before the start of the Democratic National Convention.

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Last week, the leader of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Paul Birks, was the member of the board who fought most forcefully against expedited arbitration. On Monday, Birks made the motion to resolve the conflict through arbitration by 2 p.m. Thursday.

“Over the weekend something happened,” said Lou DiNatale, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts. “Somebody on that board got noogied. I think the national unions must have talked to someone.”

Union leaders, however, denied they pressured Birks to change his position to avoid the police pickets threatened at dozens of outside convention events. Birks declined to comment.

“The national AFL-CIO had nothing to do with it,” said Robert Haynes, leader of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.

The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association filed for an injunction against the decision by the state Joint Labor-Management Committee. A hearing on the injunction was scheduled for Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court.

Reconsidering picket vow
The police union’s had vowed to picket every convention event attended by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, including the 29 delegation welcoming parties on Sunday. After Monday’s decision, union officials said they would step up their efforts and might reconsider their promise not to picket at the FleetCenter, the site of the convention July 26-29.

“We’re absolutely going to picket, now more than ever,” police union president Thomas Nee said. “It’s going to be worse now than it was before because we’re calling on everybody. I’m telling you, they’re coming in from around the country.”

Off-duty officers and police from other cities are expected to do most of the picketing during convention week. Nee predicted a large turnout from union members angered by the board’s action.

Menino praised the board’s reversal, saying he would abide by the arbitrator’s decision, even if the outcome is bad for the city.

“I think finality is coming Thursday at 2 o’clock,” said the Democratic mayor, who worked to bring the convention to Boston. “These are very simple issues. What can the city afford?”

Menino brushed aside Nee’s threat to go forward with plans to picket convention events. “If there’s a contract in place, what are they going to picket?” he said.

The prospect of delegates facing a picket line at convention events worried Democratic leaders. Those from California, Connecticut, Maine, Ohio 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.

The police, who have been without a contract for more than two years, are asking for a 17 percent raise over four years. The city is offering 11.9 percent.

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