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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

That got their attention

You have to hand it to Speaker Robert DeLeo -- he certainly got labor's attention on the question of controlling health care costs of municipal employees.

When last we looked, labor leaders were howling at the moon and comparing DeLeo to Wisconsin's Scott Walker, all because the Winthrop Democrat decided to draw a line in the sand over reining in the cost of collectively bargained health benefits.

DeLeo's proposal to several years of recalcitrance to proposals offered by Deval Patrick to move on the issue? Strip collectively bargaining rights on the issue. That was the proverbial 2-by-4 to the backside.

But once the histrionics from AFL-CIO boss Robert Haynes and Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts head Ed Kelly ended, lo and behold we have a new proposal -- offered by the secretary-treasurer of the Boston Building Trades Council no less.

The amendment being offered by Dorchester Democrat Martin Walsh would create a 45-day window to negotiate with administrators over health benefits, and send the matter to arbitration if they fail to agree. Workers would also share in at least 25 percent of the savings cities and towns realize by shifting health costs.

Apparently there's something to it because both union and municipal leaders think it is a bad idea -- even though something similar passed the Senate last year and tracks Patrick's suggestions.

Haynes, in his understated way, thundered:
“You are either on the side of collective bargaining for the workers who have been willing to compromise on this issue or you are against those collective bargaining rights and want to reward intractable, uncompromising management advocates.’’
On the other side Geoff Beckwith, head of the Massachusetts Municipal Association and a one-time Democratic state rep, declared the Walsh plan "ridiculous" and "a disaster for local taxpayers."

The Walsh proposal also sets up a nifty political dynamic: he has about 50 votes, including six from DeLeo's leadership team. That would force the Speaker to round up Republican votes to pass the Ways and Means budget version, something he could do, but with some costs.

All in all, an interesting battle will be brewing when the House takes up the budget next week. Too bad we won't see any of it because the compromise sure to emerge will be hammered out behind closed doors.

You might say they will collectively bargain to reach a solution.

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Blogger Peter Porcupine said...

One comment on the Walsh proposal. Even if the parties go to arbitration, selectmen/town administrators cannot enter into binding agreements. Any labor agreement must be ratified by town meeting, and if they vote 'no', the arbitration is moot. This is a big problem in towns, as opposed to cities, and Rep. Walsh did not take it into considertion despite the fact that more MA municipalities have open town meetings than have city councils or mayors.

April 22, 2011 3:17 PM  

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