Massachusetts Dems Pass Bill to ‘Eliminate Collective Bargaining as We Know It’

Mike Elk April 27, 2011

Robert A. DeLeo, speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, did not strengthen his party's traditional alliance with organized labor this week.

Last night, the Mass­a­chu­setts House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives over­whelm­ing­ly passed a bill (11142) to strip pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers of their abil­i­ty to bar­gain col­lec­tive­ly for health­care. The rhetoric sur­round­ing the bill, pro­posed by Demo­c­ra­t­ic State House Speak­er Robert A. DeLeo, is in many ways sim­i­lar to what Wis­con­sinites recent­ly heard as Gov. Walk­er pushed his infa­mous union­bust­ing bill.

But how could a state in which Democ­rats con­trol both the State House and the Governor’s man­sion be push­ing a bill that attacks work­ers’ rights to col­lec­tive­ly bargain?

The State of Mass­a­chu­setts cur­rent­ly faces a bud­get deficit of $1.9 bil­lion. House Democ­rats say that by lim­it­ing the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights of pub­lic employ­ees over health­care they can save the state $100 mil­lion a year. Democ­rats in Mass­a­chu­setts, much like Democ­rats in New York, have focused on cut­ting basic gov­ern­ment ser­vices and work­ers’ wages instead of rais­ing tax­es on the rich­est. Thus, House Speak­er DeLeo pro­posed the plan that would lim­it the rights of employ­ees to col­lec­tive bar­gain over health­care. And many Democ­rats, who have been sup­port­ed by labor unions in the state, passed it.

We are going to fight this thing to the bit­ter end,’’ Robert J. Haynes, pres­i­dent of the Mass­a­chu­setts AFL-CIO, told the Boston Globe last night. Mass­a­chu­setts is not the place that takes col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing away from pub­lic employees.’’

The plan, which now goes to the State Sen­ate, gives local offi­cials the abil­i­ty of munic­i­pal gov­ern­ments to set copay­ments and deductibles for munic­i­pal work­ers. Only the amount of year­ly pre­mi­ums paid by work­ers would be on the nego­ti­a­tion table for pub­lic workers.

Mean­while, play­ing good cop to House Speak­er DeLeo’s bad cop, Gov­er­nor Deval Patrick has sought a more mod­er­ate pro­pos­al on lim­it­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights. Patrick’s plan gives unions a lim­it­ed time win­dow to bar­gain before local offi­cials would be allowed to impose their own health care ben­e­fit plans uni­lat­er­al­ly with­out com­ing to a col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agreement.

This basi­cal­ly elim­i­nates col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing as we know it says SEIU Local 888 Bruce Boc­cardy who rep­re­sents 200 pub­lic bar­gain­ing units through­out Mass­a­chu­setts. This is the first step in a long process to elim­i­nat­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing for pub­lic employ­ees in the state of Massachusetts.”

Demo­c­ra­t­ic New Bed­ford May­or Scott W. Land, pres­i­dent of the Mass­a­chu­setts May­ors’ Asso­ci­a­tion, told the Boston Globe the plan was nec­es­sary, say­ing You need this reform now; oth­er­wise you’re going to [con­tin­ue] to lay off employ­ees to pay for ben­e­fits.” The threat of lay­offs if col­lec­tive­ly bar­gain­ing rights weren’t trimmed seems to match sim­i­lar rhetoric com­ing from Gov­er­nor Scott Walk­er (R‑Wis.).

The big dif­fer­ence: The rhetoric is com­ing from a Democrat.

Many have framed the attacks on col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights as a tac­tic for Repub­li­cans to elim­i­nate the Democ­rats base. How­ev­er, this sim­pli­fies who is attack­ing pub­lic employ­ee unions. At the time when Oba­ma called for a fed­er­al wage freeze in Novem­ber, I won­dered on this web­site whether it was Obama’s PAT­CO moment, which opened up the door for more attacks on pub­lic work­ers. (In 1981, Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan fired mem­bers of the Pro­fes­sion­al Air Traf­fic Con­trollers Orga­ni­za­tion en masse.)

While Democ­rats have been less brazen in their attacks on pub­lic employ­ees’ unions, they have still attacked pub­lic employ­ees unions. Why is that? It’s because it’s often less polit­i­cal­ly risky for Dem­co­rats weary of tak­ing on the rich to go after unions than to call for high­er tax­es on the rich.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Work­ing In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is cur­rent­ly a labor reporter at Politico.
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