Hi Will …
The bill passed recently preventing unions from collective bargaining on health plan design was sold by you and others on the basis that municipal managers needed the flexibility it offered in the face of rising health care costs, that benefits were unusually generous in some towns (e.g. $5 co-pays, very low premium shares), that unions were sometimes unwilling to recognize the problems the towns faced, and that bargaining with multiple unions was too cumbersome. One major potential benefit to employees, in addition to the reduced costs for the towns, was supposed to be better job security as those reduced costs translated to a reduced chance of layoffs.
You may recall that during the debate on this issue I wrote you about my concern that if the bill were passed, cities and towns where employees had already negotiated substantial concessions on health care in return for job security would be penalized. When unions did recognize the problems and acted cooperatively in the exact direction those supporting the bill wanted prior to passage, after the bill passed they could then have their benefits reduced further, unilaterally, by the towns, thereby taking one hit voluntarily by acting as good citizens and another hit mandiatorily under the bill.
That is now exactly what is happening where I work. We negotiated higher co-pays and adjustments to benefits and premium shares a couple of years ago to save the municipality money because we did recognize the issue and we knew our best approach was to be cooperative. Savings were in the millions, we were praised for our flexibility, and there were few layoffs in very tight times. Now it looks like the municipality will exercise its option to bring employees under GIC or otherwise reduce costs as the bill allows, and we will see our co-pays grow further, adjustments to benefits which we can no longer negotiate, our insurance carrier changed, etc. We do get some premium savings but as far as I can see they are minimal on a per employee, per month basis and do not offset the increased costs. The reward for the concessions we agreed to is a further reduction in benefits.
I’m sure the same thing is happening in other places, but those cities and towns where unions showed no flexibility and had much more generous benefits are treated the same way under the bill as those where unions worked hard to be cooperative and tried to make things work for the municipality, and voluntarily negotiated away health benefits because they understood the dilemma.
I support your positions on pretty much everything else, but this result is giving me great pause in how I will vote Tuesday, because it seems so unfair, yet I think was inevitable under this bill.
I realize you may not have a chance to respond given the campaign pressures but I wanted to put these views forward regardless.