BOSTON – The fight for collective bargaining rights of municipalities escalated after a controversial vote in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, according to state officials.
The debate, which brings into question the authority of unions to design their own health care plans, began when State Rep. Martin Walsh, D-Dorchester, filed an amendment to the 2012 House budget proposal that would allow cities and towns to increase insurance co-pays and deductibles of their employees without consulting with the unions representing these municipal workers.
According to Walsh, who serves as a co-chair for the Massachusetts Democratic Party Labor Caucus, his amendment would give union employees the power to negotiate their own health care plans.
“There’s a move in the state budget to take the municipal employees and move them into the state’s Group Insurance Commission or change their health care plan without giving them any say in the matter,” Walsh said in a phone interview on Monday. “They weren’t offered the opportunity to design their own plan…I filed an amendment that would give a voice to the municipal workers and allow them to have a stake in designing their health plans.”
In mentioning the “move ” to take rights away from union members, Walsh was referring to a compromise proposal spearheaded by House Speaker Robert DeLeo. The proposition would grant municipal leaders the power to impose their own plans if a health care negotiation couldn’t be reached in 30 days.
Walsh said DeLeo “had no basis behind [his] statements,” but the Massachusetts Municipal Association backed the speaker’s compromise. Executive Director Geoffrey Beckwith said in an email, “The MMA strongly supported the House reform measure, and strongly opposed Amendment 749 (the Walsh Amendment).” In a press release sent out a week before the House voted on the bill in question, Beckwith wrote that Speaker DeLeo’s proposal would save “local taxpayers $100 million in health care costs, protect essential services, and preserve thousands of municipal jobs.”
The MMA director went on to write that Walsh’s amendment “is so flawed that it would be even worse than no action at all,” claiming that it would block change to municipal co-pays, limit the guaranteed savings for cities and towns, and lead to legal disputes due to vague language.
Although the war between legislators has been heating up in past weeks, the conflict only escalated when the House approved DeLeo’s proposal in a 111-42 vote on April 26. Many union workers throughout the state were enraged at the outcome and promised political consequence as a result of the vote.
The struggle, however, has come to an obligatory halt while advocates wait for the Senate to debate the bill. Walsh said that he has not decided on a plan moving forward, but he is eager to see the outcome of the dispute.