I am responding to some comments I have seen here and also thinking about today’s Globe editorial on this topic.
As a teacher and committed union member I think the recent spate of comments about teacher unions are WAY off as a generalization. I do not dispute that some unions are stubborn about health costs but the proposed statutory solutions (forcing everyone to GIC, allowing town managers to change health plans without bargaining, etc.) punish all unionized employees.
The degree of labor-bashing in the discussion of municipal budgets generally is way, way out of hand in my view. The underlying issue is the decrease in revenue due to the recession, reduced federal support due to years of stupid tax cuts based on trickle-down economics, unwillingness to create a progressive tax structure or increases taxes on those who can more afford to pay, etc. This revenue shortfall does cause a problem when met with inflexible labor attitudes but that is the end of the chain and labor should not be the scapegoat here (as it was, for example, in today’s editorial).
In my view there is no excuse for taking away bargaining power because unions are seen as intransigent — unless of course you plan to also do that when management is intransigent, which also happens. And there is no excuse for telling employees they cannot negotiate health benefits. Suppose the next step is, someone feels salaries are excessive but unions won’t give in. Then perhaps we should pass a law preventing public employees from bargaining over salaries too. Etc.
I have no problem with interest-based bargaining which was mentioned in one of the posts here re Lawrence. However that is about the attitudes people bring to the table, not the legal restrictions on what they can do. Attitudes can’t be legislated.
Where I teach we negotiated a contract this year which increased copays and made other changes to make our plan the same as or better than GIC in both cost to the town and benefits for us — without being forced into a state-run program we could never control. As a result we saved several teachers’ jobs. Our leadership knew this was the tradeoff, knew our $5 copays were no longer viable, etc. Under the proposed solutions that force people to GIC this would not be allowed as I understand it.
There are teachers’ union locals that do not show this level of flexibility but then it is the city’s responsibility to bargain with them and stand up for what they (the city) believe. That’s what bargaining is about.