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 workers’ rights.
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.
“By 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,’’ he said in a statement.
But union leaders said that even with the last-minute concessions, the bill was an assault on workers’ rights, unthinkable in a state that has long been a bastion of union support. Some Democrats accused DeLeo of following the lead of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and other Republicans who have targeted public employee benefits
By the looks of that quote in bold, it seems as though Speaker DeLeo hired Scott Walker's speechwriter. Meanwhile, the Bay State's liberal Democratic Governor, Deval Patrick, has lent some mild support to the measure and is urging incensed labor leaders to "dial down" their heated rhetoric in opposing the bill:
There’s “room for debate” about whether a House-passed bill gives labor unions enough of a seat at the table on health insurance issues, Gov. Deval Patrick said today, adding that he’s glad the House dealt with the controversial topic and hopes to see a final bill soon.
“I want labor to be involved,” Patrick told reporters after signing a financial literacy bill. “I want labor to be at the table.”
The governor also urged labor unions, who are comparing the House plan to the stripping of collective bargaining rights that has occurred in Wisconsin, to pull back on their commentary. “They should dial it down because that’s not what’s happening here,” said Patrick, who plans to visit Wisconsin on Saturday at the invitation of Democrats in that state to discuss collective bargaining issues.
True, the Wisconsin law limits the scope of government-sector employees' collective bargaining privileges to wages, whereas the Massachusetts law only constrains the public unions' ability to collectively bargain on healthcare benefits. But the Wisconsin law exempted unions representing first responders from the new rules; the Massachusetts has no such carve-outs.
After Gov. Walker signed his controversial bill into law, lefty commentators predicted that his actions would trigger a powerful pro-labor backlash across the country. No dice. Wisconsinites re-elected a conservative supreme court justice in the face of intense left-wing opposition, Ohio passed a more expansive measure, and now deep blue Massachusetts has taken a major step to do the same. It's amazing what a little political courage can do.
UPDATE: In case you're curious about just how blue Massachusetts is, the state House is currently comprised of 128 Democrats and 32 Republicans. All but two of the GOP lawmakers voted with the Speaker's plan. Theoretically, every single Republican in the chamber could have voted no, and the bill still would have passed comfortably.