Flaherty receives five union endorsements

Mayoral candidate capitalizes on 5 union endorsements
He has advantage early over Yoon

City Councilor Michael F. Flaherty, capitalizing on his close ties to some union leaders and their anger at Mayor Thomas M. Menino's leadership, has quickly racked up five union endorsements, giving him the opportunity to challenge Menino's dominance among organized labor and grab an early advantage over his fellow challenger in the mayor's race, Councilor Sam Yoon.

The five unions, together representing about 5,000 workers in Boston, provide Flaherty with early muscle that he can use to staff phone banks, send mailings, canvass voters, and run signature drives. Union electrical workers and firefighters, armed with clipboards and dressed in union-emblazoned T-shirts, played a prominent role in helping him gather more than 6,000 signatures from Boston voters this week, enabling him to score a symbolic victory as the first mayoral candidate to qualify for the ballot.

Flaherty's courting of unions carries risks as well as rewards. Yoon, who has not won any union endorsements, has criticized Flaherty and Menino, suggesting their union endorsements make them less willing to challenge la bor's demands. Inspired by the elections of Governor Deval Patrick and President Obama, Yoon has been seeking to build a broader coalition of young voters and professionals with little allegiance to Boston's traditional power brokers.

"This year, it's clearly important that we have high turnout so that the new mayor isn't going to be beholden to just the special interests represented by the unions," Yoon said. "If the mayor is selected by special interests only, guess whose interests he will have in mind?"

Flaherty, a lawyer who was a Teamster while working for Airborne Express after Boston College High School, is proud of his union support. He said he has not made concessions to the unions that have backed him after battling with Menino, such as the 1,500-member Boston Firefighters Local 718, which endorsed Menino in 2005 but is now locked in a bitter and protracted fight over the mayor's push for mandatory drug and alcohol testing and other concessions.

"I've been very clear, on the record, prior to my campaign for mayor and with the firefighters," Flaherty said. "Under my leadership, there will be mandatory drug and alcohol testing."

Edward J. Kelly, the president of the firefighters' union, said drug and alcohol testing did not play a role in the decision to back Flaherty.

"Actually, Councilor Flaherty supports mandatory drug testing, as do we; it's just the mayor has failed to negotiate in good faith, which he has a terrible history of," Kelly said. "The members of the Boston Fire Department are definitely starving for leadership and somebody who respects the job they do, and . . . we've always had a very strong, close relationship with Councilor Flaherty."

Menino's battle with the firefighters helped persuade the Utility Workers of America Local 369, which endorsed the mayor in 2005 and 2001, to back Flaherty this time. "He's bullying," Gary P. Sullivan, the union president, said of Menino. "What he's done to the firefighters, with all the crisis going on there, that stuff should happen privately. And Flaherty just has a little more class it seems."

The mayor, who has built strong ties to unions over his 16 years in office, said he is not worried about losing labor support to Flaherty.

Indeed, five unions, representing 15,000 healthcare workers, hotel workers, electrical workers, carpenters, and painters, have formed a group called Victory Boston to run phone banks, canvass, and send mailings for the mayor, starting with a kickoff rally and signature drive at the electrical workers' headquarters yesterday.

The formidable Boston Building Trades Council, which represents 19 unions with 35,000 members in Greater Boston, is also backing Menino, grateful that he has pushed for controversial projects like the Columbus Center hotel and residential complex over the Massachusetts Turnpike and the Boston University infectious disease laboratory in the South End.

"I have my share of union support," Menino said. "A lot of unions have called me and said, 'We want to be helpful to you.' Unions are important to our city, and I'll be competitive and more competitive than most."