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Unions sensing budget betrayal by House

Top Democrats could be target for challenge

AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman spoke at an MBTA union workers rally at the State House in May.
AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman spoke at an MBTA union workers rally at the State House in May. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Labor unions, stung by legislative maneuvering to ease privatization at the MBTA, are targeting top House Democrats, meeting privately to strategize, and discussing the possibility of running more pro-union candidates against incumbents. One union official even proposed picketing a Democrat’s fund-raiser.

About 45 top labor officials and activists met this week at a Boston electricians’ union hall in an “emergency meeting” during which some attendees strongly advocated finding challengers to Democratic lawmakers who had sided against organized labor in the recent budget fight, according to people familiar with the proceedings.

The rare display of raw friction between Democrats and a key ally comes after party leaders ratified a state budget that included a major setback for organized labor, paving the way for wider privatization at the MBTA after a winter of slowed and canceled service — a measure organized labor fears will hand government work to nonunion workers.

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In an e-mail to other union leaders that was obtained by the Globe, Michael J. Monahan, international vice president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, called for picketing outside a July 28 fund-raiser to be hosted by House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

The event’s purpose is to raise campaign money for Representative Michael J. Moran, a Brighton Democrat and member of DeLeo’s leadership team, and is scheduled to be held at Carrie Nation, a popular Beacon Hill watering hole.

“The event should be picketed and shame on anyone who rewards what we discussed today!” Monahan wrote in the e-mail, which was addressed to state AFL-CIO president Steven A. Tolman and copied to senior AFL-CIO official Robert Bower, Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts president Edward A. Kelly, and Moran.

In a telephone interview, Monahan declined to discuss future political plans but said, “At points in our life, we make decisions, and we either go right or left. People need to be held accountable for their actions.”

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Tolman called Moran a friend and said he doubted that unions would picket his fund-raiser. Picket lines are often viewed as a last-resort gambit against employers or politicians unfriendly to unions, and many Democrats consider crossing them a venial political sin.

Asked if individual lawmakers’ names had been mentioned during the meeting, Tolman replied, “There may have been. But there was no definitive action decided. There was a general consensus that we do not have the friends we thought we had.”

Unions were angered earlier this month when the House and Senate voted to suspend for three years the “Pacheco Law” for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The law forces officials to justify how outsourcing services would save money over having public employees perform the work in “the most cost-efficient” way possible.

That vote came after a winter in which, amid historic cold and snowfall, public transportation service often ground to a halt.

Long a hobgoblin of Republicans in Massachusetts and most recently of Governor Charlie Baker, the law — named for Taunton state Senator Marc Pacheco — fell into the sights of DeLeo in April, when House leaders called for a five-year suspension.

Labor leaders object to the characterization of the Pacheco Law as an antiprivatization measure, saying that 80 percent of the time it has been tested, the statute permitted the outsourcing.

Suspending the law permits a private contractor to charge more and pay its employees less, they argue.

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While the Senate offered some resistance, privately senators acknowledged that public opinion had reached critical mass and called outright resistance politically untenable.

Ultimately, House and Senate negotiators trimmed the five-year moratorium to three. Baker is expected to sign that portion of the budget.

The debate divided unions and their traditional Democratic supporters in the Legislature; labor officials said they are accustomed to Republican onslaughts but felt betrayed that their fellow Democrats would side with the opposition. They were especially angered that an effort to force a roll-call vote — during which members’ individual positions would be recorded — was withdrawn.

Tolman sent a letter on Thursday to DeLeo, calling it “a personal letter to the speaker letting him know my feelings.”

In an e-mailed statement Thursday, DeLeo said, “I deeply value the strong dialogue and relationship I’ve built with labor. While I understand their opposition, I disagree with it being expressed in this way.”

The spat between unions and Moran is particularly personal. Top officials from other labor groups, who were not on Monahan’s e-mail list, call Moran a stalwart of union causes.

Monahan and Moran were both key players in the political machine run by the late former mayor Thomas M. Menino.

Moran said he had no plans to change the fund-raiser and said union members often come to his campaign events.

“Ten years ago, when I first was elected, I felt like I was always a supporter of working men and women,” Moran said. “I still believe I’ve never compromised those principles.”

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Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.