Wisconsin Parallels Seen In Local Health Care Fight

Wisconsin Parallels Seen In Local Health Care Fight
Wisconsin Parallels Seen In Local Health Care Fight

Retirees Must Have Voice In Process

The battle, now being waged in Wisconsin over the rights of public employees to collectively bargain, should come as no surprise to Association members. As we have been reporting for some time, there is a growing national movement to reduce and alter the health care and defined benefit pensions of public employees and retirees.

Unfortunately, Massachusetts has not been immune to this disturbing trend. Local officials, lead by the Mass. Municipal Association, have been busy lobbying for complete control over health care benefits. And, in last year’s election, we witnessed Republican candidates for congress and treasurer openly advocate for the end of our defined benefit pension plan, along with a systematic downgrade of retirement and health care benefits.

Our Association has taken a firm and active role in opposing these drastic and unwarranted attacks on public retirees. In recent years, we have participated on committees and in negotiations that were aimed at improving our pension and health care benefit structure here in Massachusetts. Due to the bipartisan work that has been done over the past several decades, we now have one of the most secure public pension systems in the country.
As active employees, public retirees contributed a large portion of their income into the defined benefit pension plan. With no Social Security coverage, today’s active employees contribute an average of 10% of their salary into the pension fund.

Statewide, the average retiree health insurance contribution split is now approximately 70/30. Copayments and deductibles have been brought into line with, and in some cases exceed, comparable private sector plans.

“Even though retirees don’t have collective bargaining rights, we wholeheartedly support the rights of the unions to bargain. Going one step further, we also feel that retirees deserve a seat at the health care table and a voice in the process,” says Association President Ralph White. “Changes to any of these benefits have a direct impact on the lives of retirees. Too much is at stake for our members not to be part of the process.

“Thankfully, we have a state officials and legislative leadership who believe in fairness and continue to support the right to bargain health care plan design. Never say never, but I don’t think that the extreme approach, chosen by the Governor of Wisconsin, would fly with the vast majority people of Massachusetts.”