Last winter, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) instigated a massive movement of Main Street Americans when he advocated for and passed a new budget law that severely restricted the labor rights of most public employees in the state.
Last night, Massachusetts took a step in that direction when the state House of Representatives voted 111-42 for a bill that would essentially strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights to negotiate for health insurance plans. Under the proposed law, unions would be allowed to negotiate with local officials for 30 days, but officials could still unilaterally impose changes in health insurance coverage if negotiations fail to reach an agreement. The text of the legislation spells this out:
(c) The appropriate public authority shall convene a meeting with a representative from each of the collective bargaining units to which the authority provides coverage and a retiree representative, hereafter called the public employee committee, and submit the proposal for plan design changes or a transfer to the commission. The proposal shall include details of changes to current plan design features and a cost savings estimate. The appropriate public authority and the public employee committee shall have 30 days to discuss the details of the proposal put forth by the appropriate public authority and negotiate the use of the 10 per cent cost savings realized by the governmental unit [...] If no agreement is reached between the parties, then the original plan design proposal or proposal to transfer to the commission submitted by the appropriate public authority shall be implemented by the appropriate public authority who shall establish an HRA to offset costs for high utilizers and retirees to be funded by 20 per cent of the estimated cost savings established under subsection [...] (d) An appropriate public authority may increase the dollar amounts for co-payments, deductibles, tiered provider network co-payments and other plan design features
“We are going to fight this thing to the bitter end,” Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, told the local press. “Massachusetts is not the place that takes collective bargaining away from public employees.” Local news station WWLP covered the vote last night. One representative who sponsored a failed amendment to neuter the bill drew comparisons to Wisconsin, saying, “Look at what happened in Wisconsin and some different places, collective bargaining rights are under assault.” Watch a report from WWLP TV:
A House leadership source told ThinkProgress that, “Contrary to statements mischaracterizing the House plan as ‘Wisconsinesque,’ the budget measure merely allows a municipality – if they wish – to seek changes to their health care plans.” The source continued, “State and municipal workers will still collectively bargain over wages, retirement benefits and most other rights.”
“There’s a class war going on this country and today the Massachusetts House sided against the middle class,” said Ed Kelly, president of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, after the vote. The legislation now moves on to the senate, where its fate is uncertain, but unions plan to heavily lobby the chamber over the next month.