The heavily Democratic House of Representatives in Massachusetts pulled a cowardly, treacherous act late last night, voting for the unthinkable in the most Democratic state in the nation:
House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last night to strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care, saying the change would save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns.
The 111-to-42 vote followed tougher measures to broadly eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states. But unlike those efforts, the push in Massachusetts was led by Democrats who have traditionally stood with labor to oppose any reduction in workers’ rights.
Where Wisconsin Democrats fled the state and fought to the last man/woman to oppose such union-busting measures, Massachusetts Dems slinked into the State House and voted at 11:30 PM, to avoid publicity and confrontation with public employee union protesters.
What the hell is going on here?
I'm no knee-jerk Dem basher; far from it. But MA Democrats have always included a fair share of DINOs and political opportunists alongside the Kennedy's, Kerry's, et al. Here, however, the motivation isn't closet Republican ideology, it's something even more nefarious: simple cowardice.
As in every state, the end of Stimulus funding and continuing recession are creating huge gaps in state and local budgets, shortfalls that legislators are panicking over how to close without taking too much political damage. The calculation here seems to be that dumping on public unions, the most fiercely loyal Democratic constituency, will be less painful than cutting spending outright for any particular programs or, heaven forbid, raising taxes. Municipal government representatives are begging for the same option: to be able screw over their public unions without having to put the matter to a vote or go through extended negotiations, and thus avoid direct service cuts or property tax hikes.
The spin coming from the House leadership is that this is a much narrower bill than Wisconsin's anti-union measure, in that it focuses only on bargain rights over health care plans, and there only on the level of co-payments and deductibles. This is hogwash. For one thing, the measure applies to police and firefighters as well as teachers and other public unions, whereas even Scott Walker wasn't stupid enough to take on public safety employees. Further, by granting local officials unilateral rights to impose whatever level they choose of co-payments and deductibles, the bill effectively hands sole discretion over a huge component of employee compensation to one side: the employer. If a city or town sees a revenue gap of $1-million, just raise employee co-payments by $5. If the deficit is $2-million, okay, double the out-of-pocket deductible across the board. Case closed.
The worst part of this scam is how politically damaging it is, to MA Democrats themselves, to Democrats nationwide, and to the progressive cause in general. By putting their stamp of approval on union-bashing legislation, the Massachusetts House is providing political cover for Democrats in every other state legislature who might be willing to consider similar measures to cover their own asses.
It's all so unnecessary, too. Collective bargaining isn't some kind of weapon that unions can wield to force local governments to squander taxpayer dollars on their every whim, or to ensure free, premium health care for every public employee. It's simply the right to sit at the table and negotiate. In tough times, everybody needs to give a little, and if there are some unions out there that would indeed toe a hard line and refuse to concede any benefits, the public would undoubtedly side with local government in playing hard ball in such negotiations. But that is not at all the same as legislating away the right to bargain at all.
This bill isn't law yet, as the Senate hasn't voted, and the unions are going all out in their counter-attack, with effective radio ads decrying the notion that Massachusetts, the cradle of American liberty, would jump in and join the movement to take away fundamental labor rights.
On the other hand, Governor Patrick appears to be on the fence, having proposed a somewhat less onerous approach, but still seemingly leaning toward endorsing some kind of labor-restricting legislation:
The governor, like Murray, has said he wants workers to have some say in altering their health plans, but does not want unions to have the power to block changes.. Et tu Brute? What are we coming to?
UPDATE: Oddly, this diary materialized on the rec list late this afternoon, after scarce response all day before then. Thanks, I think the issue is vital.
Per request of wiscmass (a more appropriate UID couldn't be found on this topic), here is the list of MA reps who voted for this debacle:
Fortunately, my friend and local rep (and closet DKos member) voted AGAINST...