Michael Levinson, Boston Globe
House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last night to strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care, saying the change would save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns.
The 111-to-42 vote followed tougher measures to broadly eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states. But unlike those efforts, the push in Massachusetts was led by Democrats who have traditionally stood with labor to oppose any reduction in workersâ€™ rights.
Unions fought hard to stop the bill, launching a radio ad that assailed the plan and warning legislators that if they voted for the measure, they could lose their union backing in the next election. After the vote, labor leaders accused House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and other Democrats of turning their backs on public employees.
â€œItâ€™s pretty stunning,â€™â€™ saidÂ Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. â€œThese are the same Democrats that all these labor unions elected. The same Democrats who we contributed to in their campaigns. The same Democrats who tell us over and over again that theyâ€™re with us, that they believe in collective bargaining, that they believe in unionsâ€¦ . Itâ€™s a done deal for our relationship with the people inside that chamber.â€™â€™
â€œWe are going to fight this thing to the bitter end,â€™â€™ he added. â€œMassachusetts is not the place that takes collective bargaining away from public employees.â€™â€™
The battle now turns to the Senate, where President Therese Murray has indicated that she is reluctant to strip workers of their right to bargain over their health care plans.
DeLeo said the House measure would save $100 million for cities and towns in the upcoming budget year, helping them avoid layoffs and reductions in services. He called his plan one of the most significant reforms the state can adopt to help control escalating health care costs.
â€œBy spending less on the health care costs of municipal employees, our cities and towns will be able to retain jobs and allot more funding to necessary services like education and public safety,â€™â€™ he said in a statement.
Last night, as union leaders lobbied against the plan, DeLeo offered two concessions intended to shore up support from wavering legislators.
The first concession gives public employees 30 days to discuss changes to their health plans with local officials, instead of allowing the officials to act without any input from union members. But local officials would still, at the end of that period, be able to impose their changes unilaterally.
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