View Full Version : General Politics Health Care Bargining To Unions In Massachusetts Is Now Limited Thanks to Dems.

04-27-2011, 08:51 PM
House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last night to strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care, saying the change would save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns.

The 111-to-42 vote followed tougher measures to broadly eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states. But unlike those efforts, the push in Massachusetts was led by Democrats who have traditionally stood with labor to oppose any reduction in workers’ rights.

Unions fought hard to stop the bill, launching a radio ad that assailed the plan and warning legislators that if they voted for the measure, they could lose their union backing in the next election. After the vote, labor leaders accused House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and other Democrats of turning their backs on public employees.

“It’s pretty stunning,’’ said Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “These are the same Democrats that all these labor unions elected. The same Democrats who we contributed to in their campaigns. The same Democrats who tell us over and over again that they’re with us, that they believe in collective bargaining, that they believe in unions. . . . It’s a done deal for our relationship with the people inside that chamber.’’

“We are going to fight this thing to the bitter end,’’ he added. “Massachusetts is not the place that takes collective bargaining away from public employees.’’

The battle now turns to the Senate, where President Therese Murray has indicated that she is reluctant to strip workers of their right to bargain over their health care plans.

DeLeo said the House measure would save $100 million for cities and towns in the upcoming budget year, helping them avoid layoffs and reductions in services. He called his plan one of the most significant reforms the state can adopt to help control escalating health care costs.

“By spending less on the health care costs of municipal employees, our cities and towns will be able to retain jobs and allot more funding to necessary services like education and public safety,’’ he said in a statement.

Last night, as union leaders lobbied against the plan, DeLeo offered two concessions intended to shore up support from wavering legislators.

The first concession gives public employees 30 days to discuss changes to their health plans with local officials, instead of allowing the officials to act without any input from union members. But local officials would still, at the end of that period, be able to impose their changes unilaterally.

The second concession gives union members 20 percent of the savings from any health care changes for one year, if the unions object to changes imposed by local officials. The original bill gave the unions 10 percent of the savings for one year.

The modifications bring the House bill closer to a plan introduced by Governor Deval Patrick in January. The governor, like Murray, has said he wants workers to have some say in altering their health plans, but does not want unions to have the power to block changes.

But union leaders said that even with the last-minute concessions, the bill was an assault on workers’ rights, unthinkable in a state that has long been a bastion of union support. Some Democrats accused DeLeo of following the lead of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and other Republicans who have targeted public employee benefits. “In the bigger world out there, this fits into a very bad movement to disempower labor unions,’’ said Representative Denise Provost, a Somerville Democrat who opposed the bill.

Under the legislation, mayors and other local officials would be given unfettered authority to set copayments and deductibles for their employees, after the 30-day discussion period with unions. Only the share of premiums paid by employees would remain on the health care bargaining table.

Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said that, even if the bill becomes law, municipal workers would still have more bargaining power over their health care plans than state employees. “It’s a fair, balanced, strong, effective and meaningful reform,’’ he said.

Unions lobbied to derail the speaker’s plan in favor of a labor-backed proposal that would preserve collective bargaining, and would let an arbitrator decide changes to employee health plans if local officials and unions deadlock after 45 days. Labor leaders initially persuaded 50 lawmakers, including six members of DeLeo’s leadership team, to back their plan last week. But DeLeo peeled off some of the labor support in the final vote.

Representative Martin J. Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat who is secretary-treasurer of the Boston Building Trades Council, led the fight against the speaker’s plan. In a speech that was more wistful than angry, he recalled growing up in a union household that had health care benefits generous enough to help him overcome cancer in 1974. He said collective bargaining rights helped build the middle class.

“Municipal workers aren’t the bad guys here,’’ he said. “They’re not the ones who caused the financial crisis. Banks and investment companies got a slap on the wrist for their wrongdoing, but public employees are losing their benefits.’’

The timing of the vote was significant. Union leaders plan today to unleash a major lobbying blitz with police officers, firefighters, and other workers flooding the State House. Taking the vote last night at 11:30 allowed lawmakers to avoid a potentially tense confrontation with those workers, and vote when the marble halls of the House were all but empty.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.
© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.


04-28-2011, 06:47 AM
Amno - what's your take?

Chief Henry
04-28-2011, 07:14 AM
House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last night to strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care, saying the change would save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns.

The worm is turning :thumb:

05-01-2011, 03:45 PM
wont wont pass in NJ senate

05-01-2011, 05:25 PM
Doesn't matter how much you want something, if there is no money to pay for it you can't have it. You wonder what some of these people's parents taught them as kids?

05-01-2011, 08:26 PM
Unions reel as budget crisis, ebbing clout collide
Stunning setbacks in a House they once owned
By Noah Bierman and Michael Levenson

Nine of the state’s most influential union chiefs stormed into House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo’s office two weeks ago, fuming at the powerful Democrat’s plan to curb bargaining rights for police officers, teachers, and other municipal workers. The speaker let them stew in his gilded waiting room for 45 minutes. Finally, an aide popped his head out: “He’ll see you for about 90 seconds.’’

The pillars of the Democratic coalition had been reduced to just another interest group.

Days later, DeLeo secured a resounding 111-to-42 vote for his plan, making the Massachusetts House the first Democratic-led chamber in the country to curtail bargaining rights in this year of public employee labor strife. It was a seismic rebuke to labor that has stunned combatants on both sides of the union-management divide.

Though still considered among the strongest in the country, union clout in Massachusetts has been waning for years, sapped by declining membership, a well-financed group of business-backed think tanks, weaker government finances, and Beacon Hill Democrats trying to cast themselves as reformers by showing they are not beholden to traditional interests.

Union workers remain a large part of the state’s economy, making up about 14.5 percent of the workforce, the 16th-highest level among states. But less than three decades ago, unions represented 24 percent of workers here. The drop in membership — which came as manufacturing was replaced by the health and high-tech industries — has had direct political consequences in the State House.

“As we’ve gotten smaller and smaller, and weaker and weaker, there are fewer people who are really connected to unions,’’ said Susan Moir, a former union bus driver who is now a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Moir, who directs the Labor Resource Center at UMass, noted how few lawmakers have held union posts.

“You’ve got someone like [Senator] Ken Donnelly, he was a working firefighter,’’ she said. “And you’ve got somebody sitting next to him who has no connection whatsoever and no experience with unions. And we’re taking a very bad rap.’’

Even so, political players across the spectrum agree the recent House vote is less sweeping than the campaign earlier this year by Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Republicans in other states, to eliminate almost all collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Representative Martin F. Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat and union official who led the fight against DeLeo’s bill, said everyone he spoke with told him they were voting to curb union rights because they believed it would save money for desperate cities and towns.

“If my colleagues came up to me and said ‘I’m voting against labor here to take away collective bargaining rights,’ then I’d be concerned.’’ Walsh said. “But not one person said that to me.’’

“The mean spirit of what happened in Wisconsin, I do not believe is the root of what happened here in the Legislature.’’

Many Democrats, including DeLeo, said they were influenced by a December report sponsored by several business-backed think tanks that found that hundreds of millions of dollars the state had set aside for schools had instead been absorbed by the rising cost of health care for teachers and other school employees. Mayors and selectmen amplified those points in trips to the State House, countering the pressure from unions with stories about laid-off teachers and private-sector workers who pay much higher portions of their health costs.

DeLeo, a blue-collar Democrat, is an unexpected leader to take on unions. But he is pushing to emerge from the shadow of three predecessors who left in disgrace. By embracing the cause, he joins with prominent business groups that have long been critical of Beacon Hill’s protection of entrenched interests.

“We’re watching a slow realignment of the Democrats in Massachusetts,’’ said Tom Juravich, a union activist and professor of labor studies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “What we’re seeing here is an inroad into collective bargaining that would have been inconceivable even two years ago.’’

In the past, even when the state had a Republican governor, the Legislature was a backstop for union interests. Labor leaders could move votes by threatening to oust defiant lawmakers.

Joseph Faherty, who was president of the state AFL-CIO in the 1990s, said that Governor William F. Weld, a Republican who often battled unions, wouldn’t have dared to chip away at bargaining rights with pro-labor Democrats ruling the State House at the time. “I don’t think he would have even tried to put something like that through, because of the Legislature,’’ he said. “I’m amazed that this Legislature did this.’’

Former governor Michael S. Dukakis said he lost his 1978 election, in part, because police unions picketed him. In retrospect, he said, he wished he had given them a raise.

“My employee [relations] guy said ‘You stood tall,’ ’’ Dukakis recalled. “Yeah, and I’m walking out the door in January.’’

Labor leaders warned again last week, in a letter to every lawmaker, that anyone who voted for DeLeo’s bill would face retribution next election. But Democrats shrugged off the threat.

“It’s been overused and over-threatened,’’ said Senator Steven A. Baddour, a Methuen Democrat who battled unions when he pushed for a 2009 bill that stripped some bargaining rights from state transportation employees. “People are sick and tired of the constant over-the-top rhetoric.’’

The speaker’s legislation, which would affect an estimated 200,000 employees, would give cities and towns the option to unilaterally set co-payments and deductibles for their employees after a 30-day discussion period with unions. Local officials would have to offer employees a plan that is at least as good as state employee coverage, which has been lauded for controlling costs. Municipal employees affected by the changes would still be allowed to bargain over the share of premiums they pay.

The House approved the bill at 11 p.m. Tuesday, just ahead of planned protests by police officers and firefighters. Lawmakers voted after almost no floor debate. Labor leaders have vowed to fight the plan in the Senate, where they have more powerful friends and where President Therese Murray has signaled she will offer a more union-friendly bill. Ultimately, the bill will be hashed out in negotiations between Murray, DeLeo, and Governor Deval Patrick.

Patrick has been put in a difficult spot as he tries to curb labor rights with a bill similar to DeLeo’s while traveling to Wisconsin and other states to argue that he has controlled spending without desecrating core union values.

But in 2009, he signed a sweeping transportation overhaul that forced 1,000 turnpike and Tobin Bridge workers to accept new contracts and required them, along with about 6,000 MBTA workers, to pay more for health care. He also killed a program that pays more to police officers with advanced degrees and curbed a lucrative arrangement that pays officers at construction sites.

Both Patrick and DeLeo share the conviction that limiting union power will save union jobs.

“What we’re trying to say is, ‘Look, this is an education issue, it’s a public safety issue,’ ’’ said Representative Brian Dempsey, DeLeo’s budget chief. “It’s about keeping teachers in the classroom, police on the street, firefighters on the ladder truck. That’s ultimately what this is all about, because if we don’t have the resources going into local aid for those particular areas, then ultimately, they will not benefit.’’

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com., Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.
© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.