No reform, no foul

I feel silly this morning.  Did I actually let myself think for a little while that Massachusetts – Massachusetts! – would put itself on the leading edge of the growing nationwide union reform movement?  Ridiculous as it seems now, I cannot deny it.  I put it in writing.  Silly, silly me.

In the couple weeks since the union boss blow-up on Beacon hill, I’ve been increasingly bothered by the silence from Robert Haynes and his cronies.  With the Senate supposedly crafting their version of reform legislation (behind closed doors, of course), should the unions not have been out in force, wearing those color-coordinated t-shirts, chanting one of those call and response chants that everybody loves so much? (What do we want? ___!! When do we want it?  NOW!!)

Why is this man smiling? [Union boss Haynes]

But all has been eerily quiet, which probably should have tipped us off that the fix was in with the Senate.  

It turns out that the super-secret Senate reform plan that Senate President Terry Murray has been hinting at for the last week or so is – are you ready for it? – to re-arrange a few deck chairs and call it a day.  The plan (which, like the House, the Senate is putting in its budget) won’t be out until later today, but the Globe was given a peek.  Their headline says it all: “Senate plan gives more to unions.”  There should be an “a lot” in there.

Here are the low-lights:

The Senate proposal, like the House one that preceded it, would give local governments 30 days to reach an agreement with their unions on significant health plan changes. In the case of a deadlock, the House plan allows mayors and town managers to set copayments and deductibles unilaterally.

But the Senate plan creates a new way to resolve such disputes, empowering the governor. If the sides do not agree, the dispute would go to a three-member review panel: with one union representative, one management representative, and a crucial tie-breaking vote appointed by the governor’s budget chief.

 That’s the killer, right there.  All of the meat of the House plan was in its proposal to give cities and towns the ability to make unilateral changes if mandatory consultation with the unions failed to produce an agreement.  Without that authority, this whole exercise is worthless.  What the Senate has done here is create what amounts to a new arbitration bureaucracy (that will itself requiring funding, a staff, office space, etc).  Why didn’t they just call it binding arbitration and use an already-existing body?  So that they can label this “reform.”  But wait, it gets worse.

If the panel determines that the changes proposed by management at least match the health benefits given to state workers, the review panel would be required to approve them. If not, the panel would have discretion to consider union alternatives or to give more of the savings from insurance plan changes back to workers.

Regardless of what the panel decides, the Senate measure allows as much as one third of the cost savings from health changes to go back to municipal workers, whereas the House plan gives workers between 10 percent and 20 percent of that savings, but only in the first year.

Benefit packages are immensely complex things, varying widely in their particulars from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  That being the case, the determination of whether “changes proposed by management at least match the benefits given to state workers” will be a wholly subjective one.  With the panel consisting of a union appointee and a gubernatorial appointee able together to form a majority, these decisions will come down in entirely predictable patterns depending on who sits in the corner office.  That this little wrinkle might create additional incentives for the unions to pour even greater amounts of money and manpower into our future gubernatorial campaigns likely occurred to one or two of the Democrats who drafted this thing.

In the unlikely event that any city or town manages to run this union-controlled gauntlet and successfully enact changes to save some money, a large chunk of the savings will immediately be snatched away to be distributed by the union bosses.

Make no mistake: as President Murray and her team huddled for the past couple of weeks crafting this mess, they weren’t really trying to come up with a plan that will work for cash-strapped cities and towns.  They were devising clever ways to dress up a slight variation on the status quo in the artificial trappings of “reform”… READ THE REST at CriticalMASS

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