‘There are no rules’

The 11th-hour change
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  May 12, 2010

On Patriots Day, April 19, the Boston Globe first reported that arbitrators had awarded the Boston firefighters union a 19-percent raise, “a significant pay bump that would dwarf the raises of other city unions.” By the next morning, both the Globe and the Herald were citing Menino administration figures of a $74 million cost — “$27 million more than the city had squirreled away for the contract,” the Globe wrote. 

READMoneybags Menino, The mayor cuts services, but sits on a stash of cash.

The size of the reported raise stunned and appalled many in the city — but some insiders were shocked for other reasons. For one, the Globe went online with details of the award agreement just five hours after it was signed by the three-man arbitration panel, meeting in Albany — and those arbitrators were under a verbal confidentiality agreement that forbade revealing details of the decision until the Joint Labor Management Committee (JMLC) delivered the ruling on May 5.

The Menino-appointed arbitrator, Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella, admits to the Phoenix that he faxed the award to City Hall that afternoon.

Mazzarella tells the Phoenix that he considered the confidentiality agreement nullified on Monday, when the award suddenly changed to include the quid pro quo raise in exchange for drug testing. “The ground rules were, no major changes,” says Mazzarella. Because of that violation, he says, “I said, ‘There are no rules, and I’m going to give [the award agreement] to the city of Boston.’ ”

Documentation obtained by the Phoenix appears to verify Mazzarella’s claim about the 11th-hour change from Dana Eischen, a veteran New York arbitrator who was jointly agreed to as the third, and independent, member of the panel. It appears that minor tweaks were not going to win over either Mazzarella or the firefighters’ appointee for Eischen’s proposal — so Eischen gave up on obtaining a unanimous decision, and offered the quid pro quo raise to get the second vote, and a majority. (Eischen declined to comment to the Phoenix.)

Menino officials, who say that they were under no obligation to keep quiet once they had the award information, spent the following two weeks feeding the press while the firefighters kept mute to honor the agreement. As one political insider put it: “The numbers $74 million and 19 percent became as well-known in Boston as Ted Williams’s number nine.”

But Menino is legally obligated under JMLC statutes to support the arbitrators’ decision. He has arguably violated the spirit, if not the letter of that law, by releasing statements and sending a letter to the City Council, calling the award “enormous,” and claiming that the administration was “struggling” to find the money to pay for it.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Beacon Hill, Government and Politics, Massachusetts government,  More more >
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