May 19, 2011
BOSTON — Last month, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a measure that would strip public employees of collective bargaining rights over health care benefits. The move infuriated unions. On Wednesday, Senate leaders unveiled a similar measure, though it gives unions some more room to negotiate.
The Senate plan would let local officials decide how much their employees would pay in copayments and deductibles, with limited union input.
The plan, which is included in the budget, was unveiled at the State House by Senate Ways and Means Chair Stephen Brewer of Barre. "This plan, and hear me clearly, provides municipal employees with a voice, but not a veto," Brewer said.
The Senate plan, like the House plan, would let unions and local officials negotiate any changes during a 30-day period. Under the House plan, cities and towns would still get to impose their changes in the end if no agreement could be reached. But under the Senate plan, disagreements would go to a three person board made up of a union representative, someone from management, and an individual appointed by the Patrick administration.
Union officials say the Senate proposal seems better than the House version, but they need more time to go over the details. Tim Sullivan is the communications director for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
“We appreciate the thoughtful approach of the Senate to this complex issue. Having just received the language, we are all reviewing the specifics and seeking clarification as to how this impacts real people.”
The Legislature's move to limit collective bargaining rights is highly unusual for a state controlled by Democrats. But lawmakers say rising health-care costs are forcing cities and towns to lay off workers and cut essential services. And they say these reforms would save municipalities an estimated 100 million dollars a year.
The Senate plan is scheduled for full debate next week, when members will be allowed to offer amendments. Then a conference committee will reconcile the House version and the Senate version of the plan.