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The Boston Globe

Metro

Kevin Cullen

Laboring under a cloud in Boston

Mercifully, the campaign for mayor of Boston is over, and while I have no idea who will emerge the winner at the polls, I am quite certain who lost most in this race: union workers.

If there was a message, both explicit and subliminal, in all the debates and some of the news coverage, it’s that the city’s unions and unions in general are peopled by greedy, unreasonable, insatiable Bolsheviks who would gladly make Boston go the way of Detroit as long as they can get Bunker Hill Day off.

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Funny, but I don’t know union workers who think like that, but then I’m in the tank.

My father was able to raise a family, and my mother was able to be a stay-at-home mom, because he belonged to a union. I belong to a union, and at one point, for reasons that remain a mystery, was elected president of the editorial workers at the Boston Herald back when Ronald Reagan became the darling of free marketeers everywhere by busting up the air traffic controllers union.

With all due respect to Tommy Nee from the patrolman’s association and Richie Paris of Local 718 of the firefighters, if they think they had it hard with Tommy Menino’s minions, try negotiating a contract with the union-busting lawyers Rupert Murdoch flew in and sicced on us at Herald Square back in the day. I was just a kid and naively suggested to one of those Armani-clad lawyers my earnest wish that we could agree to add a dental plan because many of my members didn’t earn enough to get their cavities filled. He looked down his glasses at me and sniffed, “Maybe they should get a second job.”

That’s exactly the attitude of McDonald’s and Walmart and any number of corporations that pay their leaders millions and their workers so little that they have to get a second job or, in many cases, file for government assistance. Taxpayers subsidize corporations that pay their people off in the dark.

“Look,” Tommy Nee was saying, “unions built this country. They built this city. And right now union members make up a big chunk of the middle class in Boston. But they are stereotyped and disparaged in a way that would be considered deeply unfair if you were talking about any other group.”

‘We are on the cusp of pricing public employees out of Boston.’

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Ed Kelly, who runs the union that represents most firefighters in Massachusetts, said that when cities and towns are legitimately broke, his members have no problem giving back. Firefighters in Revere just did so, forfeiting their clothing allowance.

“This image of public safety unions not being reasonable is just not true,” Kelly said. “We are on the cusp of pricing public employees out of Boston. Is that something the public wants?”

That wasn’t part of the conversation as so many worried about the new Red Scare: that unions would ensconce their Manchurian, or at least Savin Hill, candidate in City Hall.

The Globe and the Herald editorial pages can’t agree on what time it is, but they agree on the danger of electing a mayor who is a union activist.

It’s perfectly legitimate to ask if Marty Walsh would be beholden to unions, especially given the amount of money that unions have given his campaign, but both candidates should have been asked just as often if they’d be beholden to developers or law firms or any number of other monied interests.

The emphasis on the threat that unions pose to the future of the city left many union workers wishing they were only half as powerful as their critics believe them to be.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
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