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Unions are taking their case to the Statehouse.

Byline: John J. Monahan

COLUMN: Mass Politics

Shades of the Wisconsin state worker standoff will be apparent at the Statehouse this week as a showdown over the right of municipal workers to bargain for medical insurance benefits comes to a head during House budget floor debates.

Unions are determined to stop House budget proposals that would allow cities and towns to unilaterally decide how much coverage is provided and how much workers would pay for premiums and co-payments. The proposal has the backing of House Speaker Robert DeLeo. He says it could save local taxpayers up to $100 million annually.

Critics have said the approach would do little to curb skyrocketing medical care expenses and will merely shift more of the costs from insurers, cities and towns to municipal employees.

Police, teacher, firefighter and other worker unions charged up about losing their rights to negotiate

job benefits are all preparing for the push to stop the measure over the next several days.

While DeLeo and Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, have won praise for their plan from municipal management groups, business organizations and some Republicans, enactment of the proposal is far from a fait accompli.

The governor has put his own version in the hopper, which would force cities and towns to join the state worker insurance plan if they are unable to negotiate less costly insurance plans with local unions. The Senate has also shown strong support for proposals similar to the governor's, which would also allow workers to share savings from new insurance plans with employees.

It will be a tall order for DeLeo to get his plan through the House in the face of intense union opposition.

Throughout the week, unions are planning to have a highly visible Beacon Hill presence, with different groups set to show up to lobby lawmakers each day. Wednesday is set aside as public safety day, and large numbers of uniformed police are expected to be roaming the hallways and rallying to stop the speaker's bill. Teachers unions are planning to bring hundreds of public schoolteachers to Beacon Hill on Thursday to oppose the bill.

In a sharply worded letter to lawmakers last week, Robert Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, said it is time to choose sides on the issue.

"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 like the Massachusetts Municipal Association," Haynes wrote. He said votes on the municipal insurance issue will play a major role in deciding which candidates get labor support in


Already 50 of the 128 Democrats have split from DeLeo's proposal, signing on to an alternative that would give unions and city officials 45 days to bargain over insurance plan changes and, if there is no agreement, send the issue to arbitration. Central Massachusetts members signing on to the alternative include Reps. John Mahoney, D-Worcester; James O'Day, D-West Boylston; John Fresolo, D-Worcester; Geraldo Alicea, D-Charlton; and Denise Andrews, D-Orange.

That alternative plan also proposes that unions and municipalities each be guaranteed 25 percent of the savings, with the balance of the savings to be allotted through bargaining or arbitration.

There is strong support for the unilateral plan design proposal and DeLeo has the support of municipal officials, business organizations, and most likely Republicans. Those GOP votes may be critical to DeLeo to get the proposal included in the budget when it is voted on this week.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal has offered a new take on redistricting that will see the state surrender one of its 10 congressional seats and redraw lines for the remaining nine.

The Springfield Democrat is making the case that if the two Western districts are maintained, along with U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern's Worcester-based district, the region will be served by three votes in the House of Representatives.

Other scenarios that would merge the two Western districts could leave the region with

two members of Congress. Central Massachusetts Republicans have their own approach and want to see some of the more conservative voting areas of the Blackstone Valley removed from Neal's district and added to McGovern's, in hopes of giving GOP candidates an advantage in future contests.

Neal noted that with the current three members, the region enjoys representation from high-ranking Democratic members of the Ways and Means, Appropriations and Rules committees.

If you know anyone who would make a good federal judge, now is the time to speak up.

U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown, along with area bar associations, have made their picks for a committee screening candidates for two federal judgeships, one in Worcester and one in Springfield.

The committee, chaired by Joan Lukey, is accepting applications through May 16.

Two Worcester lawyers are on the committee: Sarah B. Christie of Hassett & Donnelly and Eugene P. O'Donnell Jr. of Fletcher Tilton. Other members are Walter Prince, Michael Mone, Michael Jennings, John Pucci, Betsy Scheibel, Roberto Braceras and Jack Corrigan. Interested candidates should contact Lukey at

John J. Monahan covers the Statehouse for the Telegram & Gazette.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 24, 2011
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