Professors take union fight to Boston

By Maynard SeiderPrint | Email
This past Friday, more than 80 teachers and librarians from all nine state colleges, wearing academic robes and carrying picket signs, marched, sang and chanted in front of One Financial Center, the modern building housing the offices of Steve Tocco, state Board of Higher Education chairman. We've picketed Tocco before, but it's always been at academic buildings where the BHE was meeting. This time we assembled at the heart of Boston's financial district, where he holds rein as president and CEO of ML Strategies, a business consulting firm, and part of one of Boston's most powerful law firms, Mintz, Levin. Earlier in the week, when remarking on the picketing that he knew was coming, Tocco responded by hoping for heavy rain. On this count the union won, as the weather was sunny and just moderately brisk. As far as we know, Tocco himself did not see the picketers; his secretary told us he was out of the building, at meetings during the day. Hundreds of executives who work at One Financial Center did see us, as did hundreds of lunchtime Bostonians, suburbanites and tourists walking in the area right by South Station. They saw our signs, calling for fair bargaining, needed raises and an end to attacks on state colleges. They took our literature, wrapped up as diplomas, which noted our issues and reminded Tocco that he still had time to move from playing Ebenezer Scrooge to playing Santa himself. The mood, this time, was festive, though the private security guards from One Financial Center viewed this onslaught of educators as a serious attack. When we first arrived, they told us we couldn't picket on the sidewalk in front of the building, a stance that I don't think even Attorney General Ashcroft has taken. We knew we could and had a city permit to back it up. A little later, when a local television station arrived to film the demonstration and interview some of us, the Financial Center guards told them they couldn't film the building itself! To their credit, the TV folks responded by slowly panning the entire building and then focusing on one of our handmade signs, a drawing of Tocco wearing a dunce cap with a grade of F by his side. Steve Tocco is a powerful man, not only in the private sector, but also in state government and the Republican Party. He has served in the administrations of all of the Republican governors since the election of William Weld in the early ’90s. Before being made chairman of the BHE, Tocco was executive director and CEO of the Mass. Port Authority, the secretary of economic affairs and a special assistant to Gov. William Weld and Gov. Paul Cellucci. Prior to entering state government, Tocco founded a public sector consulting firm and served as executive vice president of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). It was in that role as spokesman for the contractors' trade association that Tocco first achieved his anti-union credentials. I was reminded of this when a construction worker came over and joined our picket line during his lunch hour. We got to talking, and he told me how Tocco led the drive in 1988 to end the state's "prevailing wage" law, a policy that guarantees construction workers union wages when they're working on government projects even if they're employed by non-union firms. During the campaign, the construction unions stationed a man dressed up as a rat outside of Tocco's home. But they also organized, and a strong coalition of unions statewide mobilized to defeat the ABC referendum, and the prevailing wage was saved. The Romney-Tocco union-busting efforts are well known among unionists in the state, and we have natural allies here, allies that we would do well to seek out. In fact, the construction worker, whose aunt had graduated from North Adams State College some 20 years ago, wanted to know if we would be back picketing the next day. Our MSCA contingent made it to Boston by a variety of ways, mostly by car and train, but the largest delegation came from Salem State by chartered bus. They added more than three dozen to our numbers and also brought along two huge banners, one noting who we were and the names of all nine of our colleges, and the other telling the onlookers that state faculty and librarians want a contract. MCLA had five representatives there, including Joe Ebiware, Len Paolillo, Dave Langston and Ben Jacques. Besides picketing, Ben was busy in his role as "Perspective" editor doing interviews and taking photos. While the private security guards saw us as a real danger, the three Boston police who were assigned to crowd-control duty were pretty mellow. As you remember, they picketed their own employer, Mayor Menino, wherever he went this past spring and summer and ended up with a very good contract. The sergeant in charge of the detail smiled a good deal of the time, and when we chatted he told me that he was a graduate of UMass/Boston and had a son at Plymouth State College in New Hampshire. We have a lot of allies and potential allies throughout the state. All in all, it was a very good day. Of course, one event, one day of picketing, does not bring us a fair contract. But it adds to our campaign, to our visibility and to our strength. It demonstrates to our employer that we are both serious and unified in our efforts. And that's the meaning of some seven dozen teachers and librarians, from nine varied state college campuses, from Buzzard's Bay to North Adams, showing up in the heart of Boston on a sunny Friday in early December. Maynard Seider is a sociology professor and president of the MCLA Faculty Association. He notes that the college union has resisted Board of Higher Education proposals that would pay only 3 percent over four years, weaken the faculty role in campus decision making and remove the agency fee provision, widely seen as a union-busting measure.
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