MTA testifies on municipal health insurance

MTA President Paul Toner and several presidents of MTA locals made the case March 8 for a compromise plan that would achieve savings for municipalities and preserve employees' right to bargain about health care benefits.

"The MTA, like the other public employee unions, understands the grave fiscal crisis that has faced the Commonwealth for several years. We are here today to present a proposal that helps provide additional resources for our communities so that they can continue to provide the high-quality services – including public education and public safety – that we all value," Toner told the legislative panel. "Our proposal will help save jobs to keep our class sizes small, help all students succeed, and uphold the quality of our entire public education system."

Health Insurance Panel

Robert Becker, forefront, talks about the Wachusett Regional Education Association's experience in the GIC as Kim Gibson, president of the Brockton Education Association, and Paul Toner, president of MTA, look on. The three panelists and other supporters at the March 8 hearing wore stickers proclaiming, I am Part of the Solution

Speaking about a bill titled An Act Relative to Municipal Health Insurance Reform, which is backed by many business and municipal groups, Toner said: "The MTA has been working for many years to achieve savings in municipal health insurance as part of the way the Commonwealth deals with our state’s unprecedented fiscal crisis. Unfortunately, our willingness to be part of a legislative solution has been countered by the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s unwillingness to compromise, which continues to this day. Some municipalities have been holding out at the local negotiating table for several years now in the hope that you will pass their bill giving them unilateral control over health insurance plan design.

"The MTA, along with a coalition of other public sector unions, is proposing a framework that it is estimated would provide one-hundred-and-twenty million dollars in savings to our communities," Toner continued. That compromise plan, outlined at a March 7 press conference by a union coalition, includes the enrollment of eligible retirees in Medicare and expedited bargaining to achieve health insurance savings by either joining the state-run Group Insurance Commission plan or by redesigning private insurance plans.

"We acknowledge that this proposal will temporarily limit the collective bargaining process and will definitely shift costs to the employees," Toner said. "In order to further expedite the negotiating process and ensure fairness, we suggest that the legislation include language that establishes an equal split of the cost savings in the first year, with the employees’ portion of the savings being used to mitigate the cost shifting. Steps could include funding Health Reimbursement Accounts – HRAs – and creating wellness programs or other health care-related programs."

"Collective bargaining works," Kim Gibson, president of the Brockton Education Association told the panel. Her city has seen big savings through negotiated changes.

[Read Paul Toner's full testimony.]

Also scheduled to testify in support of the union coalition proposal:

Robert Becker, president, Wachusett Regional Education Association
Robert Antonellis, president, Belmont Education Association
Dorothy Verdy, president, Millis Teachers Association
Mark Baranoff, president, Education Association of Natick
Phyllis Neufeld, president, Lexington Education Association
Michael O’Connor, former president, Wayland Teachers Association
Conrad Gees, president, Wayland Teachers Association
Marquerite Gonsalves, president, Malden Education Association
Katherine Howard, president, Southborough Teachers Association
Rob Nardone, president, North Andover Teachers Association
Ellen Finneran, vice president, membership and former president, North Andover Teachers Association
Beth Kaake, president, Fitchburg Education Association
Sue Flynn, vice president, Fitchburg Education Association

News coverage of the coalition proposal:

Paul Toner on FOX 25 Morning News, March 9: Health plan compromise? Unions' cost cutting

WGBH Greater Boston, March 7: Mass. union leaders negotiate health care costs

MTA's coverage of the March 7 press conference

MTA's photos of the March 7 press conference and March 8 hearing


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