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Ed Kelly has been in the thick of his union's fight for a contract with the city for five years now.
The charisma that got him elected president of the firefighters' union is the same charisma that made people take notice in the City Council chamber on Thursday, when the City Council convened for the second of two hearings on the raise awarded to firefighters by an arbitrator in April.
Kelly made an offer that he said would help the city avoid laying workers off. He stood up to address City Council President Michael Ross.
"Councilor Ross, I heard you," Kelly said. "You made it very public testifying right here at this desk that this local needs to do something to help you help these people. Well, I'm prepared, and I know my firefighters will support me, because we're here for this city every day."
Ed Kelly had come to realize that he did not have the votes to support the arbitrator's original ruling, and so he made his dramatic offer and turned the council his way.
Kelly brandished a white sheet of paper, an offer to delay for a year a 2.5 percent pay raise firefighters that's due at the end of the month. Arbitrators awarded the pay raise as compensation for the firefighters' agreement to submit to random drug tests, but councilors still have to approve it.
Kelly had come to realize that he did not have the votes to support the arbitrator's original ruling, and so he made his dramatic offer and turned the Council his way. Its president, Ross, called it a significant concession.
"I appreciate it, and I appreciate you making this gesture," Ross said.
John Dunlap, the man who negotiates Boston's contracts with unions, also expressed the city's appreciation.
"What President Kelly stood up and offered is absolutely meaningful," Dunlap said.
But not meaningful enough. Instead, through Dunlap, the city — and Mayor Thomas M. Menino — came back with its own proposal. It would delay the firefighters' raise by only six months.
"It would also delay the contract by 12 months, so the expiration date, rather than being June 30, 2010, would be June 30, 2011," Dunlap explained.
Without that extension, Dunlap said, the firefighters could ask for another raise next month.
But during a break, Kelly said relations with the city have deteriorated so much that it will be a long time before his firefighters can negotiate another raise.
At-large Councilor Ayanna Presley said the city's response left her "deflated, discouraged, disheartened, disappointed, disgusted. It's just very discouraging."
"We don't anticipate having a raise for another three or four years," Kelly said.
City Councilors were disappointed with the mayor's demand for more concessions. Ross called the firefighters' offer unprecedented.
"I think we have an obligation to take this gesture, which is not just a gesture, but a very meaningful concession, and consider it again," Ross said.
And so, despite the firefighters' offer, the city seems as far from an agreement with them as ever. At-large Councilor Ayanna Presley said the city's response left her "deflated, discouraged, disheartened, disappointed, disgusted. It's just very discouraging. I don't know if this is Groundhog Day or if I'm on a hamster wheel."
Mayor Menino now faces a choice. The City Council has given him until Monday to take up the firefighters' offer. If he doesn't accept it, city councilors say they will vote on Wednesday on the contract awarded by arbitration. It gives the firefighters a raise at the end of the month.
Judging by what councilors were saying Thursday, they will vote for it. The mayor then has one more option: to go to court to contest the way arbitrators awarded the contract. If he does, it could be a long time before Ed Kelly can get his firefighters their raise.
This program aired on June 4, 2010.
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