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Union makes pitch to city of Boston workers

Less than two weeks after Boston’s pro-union mayor took office, one of the country’s fastest-growing labor confederations made a pitch to nonunion city employees Thursday to join its ranks.

Representatives from Service Employees International Union Local 888 held one-on-one sessions in Faneuil Hall around lunchtime Thursday with some of the 500 nonunion city workers and handed out information about the union.

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“I believe that there are some city workers who are nonrepresented, and that’s who was invited to the sessions,’’ said Rand Wilson, spokesman for the union widely known by the acronym SEIU.

The sessions raised eyebrows among longtime labor observers at City Hall, who said they could not recall a time when a union made such an overt push for nonunion city workers when Thomas M. Menino was mayor.

“I’ve never heard about this before in my 12 years as a city councilor,’’ said Rob Consalvo, the former district councilor from Hyde Park who ran unsuccessfully for mayor. “But that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. We worked with existing unions all the time, but I can’t recall a time when anyone has ever approached my staff and asked them to join a union.”

Consalvo and others questioned why the union would target a small part of the city’s workforce. Ninety-one percent of the city’s 19,000 employees belong to one of 40 unions, according to city data.

The 9 percent of nonunion workers include the mayor’s political appointees, Cabinet chiefs, and department heads, officials in City Hall said.

“Many of these are people who work in the mayor’s office and who work at the pleasure of the mayor,’’ said Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-funded financial watchdog group. “Being a part of a union would not make much sense.”

Nonunion employees also work in public information, the office of neighborhood services, and eight other offices, including arts and tourism, labor relations, the law department, and the women’s commission.

The city’s middle managers have their own union.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who left the leadership of the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District to run for mayor, was heavily backed by local unions in his bid. SEIU members were among the union workers who hoisted posters and campaigned for Walsh.

Walsh’s spokeswoman, Kate Norton, said that the mayor’s office has not been approached by the union and that any comment on the matter would be premature.

Responding to inquiries Thursday, Wilson, the SEIU spokesman, said the sessions were nothing out of the ordinary. He described them as routine informational sessions for city employees and part of Local 888’s efforts to recruit members.

He said the union held three or four similar sessions last year, although he could not say when the last meeting took place.

“There are lots of unions in the city of Boston, and obviously a vast majority of city workers are union,’’ Wilson said. “This was not an organizing drive. There was no campaigning going on here. This was just an informational session.”

Local 888 has some 8,500 members, 2,000 of whom are city employees, Wilson said.

SEIU made a pitch to city workers two days after Walsh took office in an e-mail bouncing between the union and city employees.

The e-mail was obtained by the Globe.

“Dear City of Boston employee,’’ the e-mail began. “Are you working for the City of Boston without a union? Are you interested in learning about the advantages of having a collective voice at work?”

The e-mail goes on to say that many members of SEIU Local 888 employed by the city “want you to know what being a part of our union is all about!!”

City workers were urged to attend the session Thursday and discuss the benefits of forming a union with representatives from Local 888 from noon to 6 p.m. upstairs in the food court at Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

“We are stronger together,’’ concludes the e-mail, which has the name D.J. Cronin, a union organizer, at the bottom.

Tyler, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau president, said the union is known for its aggressive recruiting, noting SEIU’s recent hard-fought campaign to unionize hospital workers.

“I think it’s their national campaign to reach out and expand the union,’’ Tyler said. “But there’s not much room to do that [here], because such a large percentage of the city are already in a union.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.
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