Union supporters had a rude awakening on Wednesday with news of the Massachusetts state House vote to slash collective bargaining rights for municipal workers. Democratic-controlled, and among the bluest of the blue, Massachusetts is not the place where most expected to see the next battle in the nationwide organized labor fight with state legislatures crop up.
The state House bill, which passed with overwhelming support in the Democratic-controlled state legislature, would “strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care,” as the Boston Globe reported Wednesday. The goal, according to proponents, is of course to “save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns.”
What happens next is unclear. But the president of the state AFL-CIO and Gov. Deval Patrick (D) agree — Massachusetts is not likely to be the next Wisconsin.
The signs are there: union activists are blanketing the airwaves with pro-labor radio ads and rallying thousands of union workers to storm the state Capitol in the coming days. The sheer magnitude of the vote against their interests may have been a surprise, but the AFL-CIO says it’s prepared for what comes next: a loud and unwavering lobbying effort for labor.
“We got another bite at the apple in the [state] Senate,” Mass. AFL-CIO president Bob Haynes told TPM in an interview. The state Senate vote isn’t likely to come for a month or so, giving workers plenty of time to shore up their legislative base among the Democratically-controlled upper chamber.
“We’re hopeful we’ll do a little bit better there.” Haynes said.
Even if there’s a surprise in store in the Senate, Haynes said he’s confident Patrick — who won reelection last year in a cycle that wasn’t great for his party nationally — will come to the aid of workers.
“I’m very confident that he’s not going to take our collective bargaining rights away,” Hanes said.
Patrick is certainly speaking Haynes’ language, telling reporters on Wednesday he understood where the workers are coming from.
“This is not Wisconsin,” he said.
But Patrick also wants to see changes in the way organized workers interact with their bosses in government. As Mike Elk reported, Patrick may not be the savoir union workers are looking for:
[P]laying good cop to House Speaker [Robert] DeLeo’s [D] bad cop, Governor Deval Patrick has sought a more moderate proposal on limiting collective bargaining rights. Patrick’s plan gives unions a limited time window to bargain before local officials would be allowed to impose their own health care benefit plans unilaterally without coming to a collective bargaining agreement.
Patrick hasn’t condemned the state House bill. In fact, he praised the vision behind it.
“The Governor appreciates that the Speaker has taken action on this important issue, but also acknowledges that this is a process,” Patrick told TPM in a statement, “and there will be changes to the bill before it reaches his desk.”
Haynes has plenty of time to lobby the state Senate, where he told TPM that AFL-CIO members expect to find some strong support. But according to the Globe, Senate President Therese Murray, “said the House had ‘moved the needle’ on the issue” of bringing down local health care costs. Murray “would not say whether she supports” the House bill.
Still, Haynes seemed confident that his side will stop what he said was a degradation in the rights of workers in Massachusetts.
“It’s not Wisconsin yet,” he said. “If they succeed we can say it’s Wisconsin.”