Local Insurance Power Grab Thwarted

Bargaining Right Not Eliminated

SEPTEMBER 2010 VOICE: Heeding calls not to violate the rights of active and retired local employees by eliminating health care bargaining rights, the Legislature has rejected a scheme devised by local officials to gain control of health insurance “plan design”.

Under the proposal, put forth by the Mass. Municipal Association and the Mass. Mayors Coalition, collective and coalition bargaining would become a thing of the past when it comes to health insurance coverage. Instead, local officials want the legal right to craft health care plans as they see fit – without having to negotiate the changes with active or retired employees.

Our Association supports the closely defended position held by labor that members should have the right to a seat at the bargaining table and be allowed to negotiate changes to health plan design and costs before they take place. And while retirees do not have collective bargaining rights, many local members are now able to participate in insurance negotiations through Section 19, known as coalition bargaining.

Together with many media outlets, local officials argue that the only solution to controlling health care costs is through granting them complete control over "plan design", without the need to negotiate. The plan would have also allowed the municipality to enroll in the state's Group Insurance Commission or a joint purchasing group, such as the MMA affiliated Mass. Interlocal Insurance Association (MIIA), without union/retiree approval.

Association officials have long argued that bargaining, especially through the coalition process under section 19, works very well when done in good faith.

"We have documented several recent cases where the local bargaining process, under Section 19, has worked very well. Quincy and Brookline are great examples of that," said Association Legislative Liaison Shawn Duhamel. "Unfortunately, some local officials don't want to negotiate fairly and openly. They'd rather go for the quick fix of shifting costs onto retirees through higher premiums, copayments and deductibles.

"Unfortunately, we don't see this issue or the push for one-sided control of our health plans going away anytime soon.

"As long as the economy is down people will look for quick fixes to complicated problems. The answer to controlling health care costs is found by coming together, not by dictating policy changes. Thankfully the Legislature seems to agree, at least for now."