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Mass. Unions Outraged Over Health Care Vote

By Jim Armstrong, WBZ-TV
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A coalition of union leaders announced their plan Monday morning. (credit: Bernice Corpuz/WBZ)

A coalition of union leaders announced their plan Monday morning. (credit: Bernice Corpuz/WBZ)

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BOSTON (CBS) – Thunderous applause filled the Statehouse on Wednesday, as hundreds of rank-and-file union members greeted and thanked select members of the House of Representatives as lawmakers walked into their chambers.

The thanks, however, were restricted to the state reps who voted “no” late Tuesday night to a bill that the unions say will dramatically reduce their negotiating power when it comes to health care.

WBZ-TV’s Jim Armstrong reports

The bill gives mayors and town administrators total power when it comes to determining health care deductibles and co-payments for municipal workers.

Unions can come to the table for a 30-day discussion period, but in case of disagreements, municipalities have final say.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Lana Jones reports.

On a case-by-case basis, if the municipality gets its way, then it must pass along 20% of its total cost savings to the unions. In the event that a compromise is reached, the municipality only has to share 10% of its savings with unions. That, lawmakers say, is incentive enough to keep the unions feeling like they have a seat at the bargaining table.

“Our families are very concerned about reps who voted against our voice,” said Edward Kelly, president of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts.

“Police as a whole, public safety as a whole, has a target on their back,” said Peabody police Sergeant Bill Cook, who joined about a dozen of his union counterparts in a visit to the office of Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo. They had hoped to discuss yesterday’s vote, but were turned away.

“Now it’s come to a head,” Cook continued, “And now there’s these shenanigans going on in the middle of the night – for a midnight vote because they don’t want to face the guys who are upset with what’s going on.”

Cook was referring to the fact that Tuesday night’s 111-42 House vote took place well after hours — close to 11:30pm, when most everyone had gone home.

Hugh Cameron, the president of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police said his members were “hurt” and “disgusted” by the vote. He spent the day organizing his members to make visits to lawmakers’ offices. He said it wasn’t fair that police officers have gone foregone raises in order to “keep their health insurance down, and [they have] increased their co-pays, through the principles of collective bargaining. And the House has just turned their back on that. We’re disgusted.”

When asked what he thought of the union’s language to describe the House vote, Governor Deval Patrick advised both sides to “dial it down”, saying it’s premature to talk about what impacts this legislation may or may not have. The governor said the bill will likely be altered several times before making its way to his desk. By then, he hopes, union concerns will have been addressed.

“I think it’s very important by the way that we dial down the rhetoric,” the governor said. “This is not Wisconsin. That is not what the House did.”

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