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ImperiumWatch: It Can Happen Here

A bill to weaken public employee unions is filed in Boston.

Comments (2)
Thursday, April 21, 2011

As public employees in Wisconsin and other states fight to hang on to collective bargaining rights, a bill to reduce those rights for public employees has been filed by Republicans in the Massachusetts Legislature.

The Massachusetts bill doesn't go as far as the measures introduced by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. It would leave intact public employees' ability to negotiate wages, hours and working conditions. But it would remove health care, overtime and the hiring of temporary employees from the list of issues open to collective bargaining.

It would also deprive the public employee unions of the right "to classify the various positions and ascribe duties and standards of productivity therefor." Duties and standards of productivity are important because when case loads soar out of control, for example, not only are agency workers strained to the breaking point—which leads to accelerated staffing turnover—but constituents get poorer service.

The legislation, put forward by Rep. Daniel Winslow of Norfolk and six other Republicans (none from Western Massachusetts), would also eliminate, except in cases with "explicit legal authority," collective bargaining for automatic cost-of-living increases tied to the consumer price index. The bill is part of a movement by conservatives who say trimming back the bargaining power of public employees would save states money in a time of fiscal crisis.

"It's appalling that the Republicans would make that type of effort here in Massachusetts," said Richard Brown, president of the Pioneer Valley Labor Council. The Massachusetts AFL-CIO points out that public employee unions in Massachusetts have already deferred pay raises, negotiated furloughs and worked with towns in the state to lower health care costs.

Joanne Goldstein, state Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, told the State House News Service that the unions have acknowledged the need for "shared sacrifice," "and have committed to sharing in that sacrifice, whether it's [education] reform or health care reform or transportation reform—all of that has been done by the governor with labor involvement... you do not need to strip employees of their collective bargaining rights in order to achieve a balanced budget or to address budget deficits."

And the idea of allowing collective bargaining for wages but not for benefits like health care, Goldstein said, is not "reasonable or, frankly, practical."

Comments (2)
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The "Winslow" bill orginally was proposed by then State Representative Barney Frank, enacted by the Democratic Legislature, and signed by the then Democratic Governor to preserve management rights for the MBTA. Since that time, the MBTA management rights law has saved millions for the T while T workers are among the highest paid transit workers in the Nation, so clearly the law is not anti-worker. It's a good idea. I have proposed expanding the law to all state and local government to preserve the traditional collective bargaining topics of wages, hours and working conditions, while giving managers the tools and accountability to manage government on a cost-effective basis. It's really a question of balance. If everything is bargainable, then no one is in charge and nothing gets done. The pending health care initiative was sponsored by the Democrats (all the while telling you they support collective bargaining) so the AFL-CIO will need to take that aspect of the discussion up with the other side of the aisle. I have offered to debate the merits of the balanced Winslow/Frank Management Rights bill with anyone, anytime, anywhere. That offer stands and I'd welcome the chance to visit my hometown in the Pioneer Valley for that purpose. Anyone?

Posted by Dan Winslow on 4.20.11 at 12:48

As an alternative paper, the Advocate should know better than anyone that simply because something is reported "weeks ago" as fact doesn't necessarily make it so. The Congressman's rationale is like being a little bit pregnant. Either you're for unrestricted collective bargaining, or you're not. It's not possible to be both. It doesn't matter whether the aim of the bill is a single state agency, like the T, or all the state agencies. Barney, and the Democrats, jumped into the limited scope of bargaining camp when they supported the MBTA Management Rights bill. No shame in that, it's a good idea and it has saved millions for that agency. But for the AFL-CIO to attempt to paint this as a "Republican" concept is disingenuous. The bill's orgins were all D and this sort of bipartisan approach to problem solving is long overdue in state government. The unions' wrath in this case is misdirected; here, the Democratic establishment has led the charge to remove healthcare benefits from the scope of barganining and Labor rightly feels betrayed. At least with the Republicans, you'll get straight talk. Glad to own this Stephanie, and I do. And the vast majority of voters agree with me.

Posted by Dan Winslow on 4.20.11 at 17:49
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