Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today chided labor leaders for comparing the House plan to curb the collective bargaining rights of municipal workers regarding their healthcare to the more sweeping efforts to cut union bargaining rights in Wisconsin.
“It’s very important that we dial down the rhetoric,” Patrick said. “This is not Wisconsin. That’s not what the House did. I’m not going to sign a Wisconsin-type bill in the end. We’re going to have a meaningful role for labor, and we are going to deliver on the savings for municipalities.”
The Democrat applauded House lawmakers for taking a “very important vote” and said it demonstrated that the House is serious about trying to ease the burden of rising health care costs on cities and towns. But he refused to endorse the specifics of the bill, or say whether it met his demand that any effort to cut local healthcare costs must preserve a “meaningful role” for labor.
“There is room for debate,” he said when pressed on the details. “The bill is not final.”
Democratic Senate President Therese Murray said the House had “moved the needle” on the issue but declined to say whether she would support the House bill. She pointed out that the Senate approved measures in 2009 and 2010 that also sought to cut local health care costs. Those measures, if they were to pass the Senate again this year, would give unions more of a voice than the House bill would
Labor leaders, meanwhile, continued to denounce the House action as an assault on teachers, firefighters, and police officers. Several hundred police officers and firefighters packed the hall outside the House chamber for a day of lobbying that had been planned before the House approved the legislation Tuesday night.
“If you destroy that middle-class fabric, you’re going to destroy the economy, and destroy the country,” said Robert Costa, a 53-year-old police officer from Plympton. “It’s because of the unions that everybody makes a decent wage nowadays.”
Supporters said the House bill, which was approved on a 111-42 vote on Tuesday night, will save cities and towns $100 million in the upcoming budget year, helping them to avoid layoffs and cuts in services.
Under the legislation, mayors and other local officials would be given unfettered authority to set copayments and deductibles for their employees, after a 30-day discussion period with unions. The copayments and deductibles would have to be at least equal to those offered to state employees through the Group Insurance Commission. Only the share of premiums paid by local employees would remain on the healthcare bargaining table.
A coalition of business-backed groups said the House plan would “bring relief to cities and towns who are facing untenable increases in employee health care costs.”
“For the first time, municipalities will be granted some of the power currently enjoyed by the state to contain costs through plan design,” said the statement, which was signed by the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and other groups. “The avoided costs can be used to maintain jobs and service delivery upon which taxpayers rely.”
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