Mass. House votes to curtail collective bargaining over health insurance
MTA President Paul Toner vowed to take the fight to the Massachusetts Senate after the House of Representatives voted in the middle of the night on April 26 to significantly curtail collective bargaining over municipal health insurance.
“We are very upset, and we are angry,” Toner said. “We deplore any vote against unions and collective bargaining.”
The 113-to-42 House vote gives municipalities the unfettered right to force employees into the Group Insurance Commission or to make plan design changes that increase employee costs to GIC benefit levels. As the fight now moves to the Senate, it is vital that legislators understand the importance of this issue to us and the extreme disappointment we feel in the actions of the House.
Educator Lobby Day is On!
MTA members are urged to come to Boston on Thursday, April 28, to talk to their representative and senator about the importance of collective bargaining. Legislators work into the evening during budget week, giving MTA members a rare opportunity to meet with them in person late in the day after work. Check with your local president about transportation options.
Toner praised the state representatives who voted to preserve collective bargaining. “We are very thankful,” he said, “for the 42 representatives who stood with us.”
He also promised that the battle is far from over.
The showdown in the House came in votes on a union-backed amendment filed by Representatives Marty Walsh (D-Boston) and Jim O’Day (D-West Boylston) to require expedited bargaining over proposed plan design changes followed by a rapid dispute-resolution process to resolve differences.
The House-approved plan does require municipalities to discuss the changes with union Public Employee Committee representatives for 30 days, but then allows the municipality to impose the changes without union approval. It also requires municipalities to share either 20 percent or 10 percent of the first-year savings with employees, depending on whether they reach agreement through those discussions. In addition, unions would continue to have the right to bargain over the health insurance split.
Despite those provisions, Toner said the proposal did not serve the interests of working families. That is especially so, he said, because the MTA and other unions have offered a viable alternative that would allow public employees to have a real voice in the decision-making process while also saving $100 million for Massachusetts towns and cities.
The Walsh-O’Day amendment would have allowed municipalities to reduce health insurance benefits to the level of GIC benefits while defending three principles:
Employees should have a right to bargain over how changes are made, with a neutral third party making the final determination if no agreement is reached.
Retirees must be protected. They need to have a role in the process through Section 19 coalition bargaining, and municipalities should be required to provide them with supplemental insurance as they are moved into Medicare.
Very sick people with high out-of-pocket expenses should be protected from exorbitant health insurance bills through the establishment of Health Reimbursement Accounts, funded in part with some of the municipalities’ first-year savings.
Although the House bill does allow up to 20 percent of the first-year savings to go toward helping employees with high medical bills, it does not eliminate the current prohibition on HRAs for municipalities that join the GIC.
Boston Benefits Partners, a health insurance consulting firm, conducted analyses for MTA showing that, without an HRA, employees who have seriously ill family members with high medical costs could amass bills of $4,000 to $5,000 a year in copayments and deductibles under the GIC or comparable plans.
“We must stand by three principles: Protecting our democratic right to collective bargaining, protecting people who are very sick, and ensuring that retirees have a voice in the process,” Toner concluded.
Is your state rep among the 42 who stood up for collective bargaining?
How to contact your rep and senator
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