BOSTON MAYOR 2013
2:03 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

Collective Bargaining Is Unexpected Hot Button Issue In Boston Mayoral Race

Bostonians who woke up today with the feeling that they were living in a banana republic can be forgiven.

The national government is in its second week of shutdown -- thanks to a relatively small band of revolutionary Republican obstructionists.

Closer to home, the 700 or so men and women who drive Boston’s public school busses staged a wildcat strike, stranding approximately 30,000 students, disrupting a normal school day, and sending parents into various stages of apoplexy.

Boston mayoral candidates State Rep. Marty Walsh (L) and City Councilor John Connolly (R).
Credit AP Photos

The surprise (and most likely illegal) strike was unwelcome news to the mayoral campaign of State Representative Marty Walsh of Dorchester.

The labor action complicated the announcement that a duo of former Walsh opponents -- City Councilor Felix Arroyo of Jamaica Plan and Dudley Square development official John Barros of Dorchester -- had endorsed Walsh for mayor.

The Arroyo-Barros endorsement is a solid positive for Walsh, helping him to consolidate his hold on the progressive activist vote.

In the wake of the bus drivers’ strike, however, it comes with an unexpected price tag.

Arroyo, a former labor organizer with the Services Employees International, was one of two mayoral candidates endorsed by the Boston Teachers Union (BTU). Hyde Park City Councilor Rob Consalvo, who has yet to declare November pick, was the other.

While union support is generally a plus among progressive voters, the support of the teachers union is problematic for the parents of many of public school students, who see the union as a roadblock to achieving needed educational reforms.

Walsh, who has in the past been a supporter of charter schools, is no favorite of the BTU.

But whatever distrust the BTU may harbor toward Walsh, it pales in comparison to the animus it holds against mayoral hopeful City Councilor John Connolly of West Roxbury.

Connolly, who has based his career on reforming Boston’s underperforming schools, was the only city councilor to vote against the most recent contract with the BTU, charging that it failed to give Boston a longer school day and fell short in empowering school principals with the authority needed to uphold tighter teacher standards.

Walsh was quick to condemn the school bus strike, as was Connolly.

Shock and outrage at the striking school bus drivers was certainly the political sentiment of the day, with Mayor Tom Menino outdoing all others with the intensity of his condemnation.

The reality is that nobody in Massachusetts political life does pissed off better than Menino.

Neither Connolly nor Walsh have the luxury of venting a la Menino.

Connolly already profits from the perception that he is willing to put taxpayers interests above those of public employee unions. But he has to be careful not to be portrayed in the media as an unhinged union opponent.

Walsh, on the other hand, is clearly the candidate of organized labor, which is the financial machine driving his candidacy. He has to carefully cultivate the image of being able to take some union cash without endorsing all union aims and actions.

With an arbitrated police contract that Menino said will cost the city an unexpected $80 million awaiting a city council vote, and a contract with the vocal and high-profile firefighters on the agenda for whomever is elected to succeed Menino, collective bargaining is shaping up to be an unexpected hot button in the November election.