Unions Mobilize As House Considers Collective Bargaining Rights

By Sarah Birnbaum

Apr. 26, 2011

BOSTON — The Massachusetts House is one day into its deliberations on a controversial budget would give cities and towns the ability to change employee health plans without union approval.

On Tuesday, union officials milled about the State House hallways, wearing buttons that said "collective bargaining = affordable health care." They passed out leaflets to House members as they entered a closed-door caucus to talk about the budget.

AFL-CIO president Bob Haynes says unions are working to avoid the kind of measure that stripped their counterparts in Wisconsin of their bargaining rights.
“All these public sector unions want to do is be able to negotiate their health care plans. We don’t want to be like Wisconsin. We want to make sure we have the right to be at the bargaining table," Haynes said. 

House Speaker Robert Deleo's plan would limit public workers' collective bargaining rights on health care plans. Deleo’s proposal would allow cities and towns to raise health insurance co-payments and deductibles for firefighters, teachers and other local government employees without prior union approval.

Union leaders are gathering support for an amendment that would require some negotiation with unions before health plan changes could be made. About 50 Democrats have signed on so far, including some members of Deleo’s leadership team.
Deleo’s backers argue that municipal workers have some of the most generous health insurance plans in the state, and the costs are unsustainable.  They say that  employee health care costs are draining local budgets and crowding out funds that could be spent, for education and other municipal services.  Debate on the amendment is expected over the next few days.

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