Mass. Unions Say Plan Balances Health Costs, Bargaining Rights

By Sarah Birnbaum

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Mar. 8, 2011

Posters at a pro-labor rally at the State House on Feb. 26 asserted unions' right to organize. The rally was held in response to pending legislation in Wisconsin that would strip unions of the right to collective bargaining. (Phillip Martin/WGBH)

BOSTON — Massachusetts public employee unions outlined a proposal on Monday they say will save cities and towns tens of millions of dollars in health care costs -- all while preserving collective bargaining rights.  

The plan would set benchmarks for health benefits that would reduce municipal health care costs by $120 million in the first year. Under the plan, savings would be split evenly between union workers and municipalities. Unions and municipal officials would get a 45-day period to negotiate details.  If they couldn’t come to an agreement, then the plan would go to binding arbitration.

At a State House press conference, AFL-CIO president Robert Haynes said public employees would continue to work with municipalities to help reduce taxpayer-financed health care costs.

“We are here genuinely seeking a compromise on the issue of health care.  But we will not allow these various crises of rising health care costs and struggling local and state budgets to be used as an excuse to erase long held and absolutely essential long term collective bargaining rights,” Haynes said.

One Republican state representative,  Norfolk's Dan Winslow, doesn’t believe that unions should have any power to negotiate health care benefits. 

“I support collective bargaining.  But the traditional topics of collective bargaining are hours, wages and working conditions.  I think that health care is one of those areas that management needs the flexibility,” Winslow said.

Winslow and the Massachusetts Municipal Association have proposed bills that would place new limits on collective bargaining’s role in health insurance issues, although Winslow’s proposed limits are more extreme. 

On Tuesday, lawmakers will hold a public hearing on several bills aimed at reducing health care costs for municipalities.

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