BOSTON — Flanked by top lawmakers, mayors and union heads, Gov. Deval Patrick on Tuesday signed into law what’s expected to save cities and towns $100 million in employee health insurance.
It took several years of debate and potent municipal lobbying to change the way cities and towns choose health care benefits. Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, says it wouldn’t have happened if unions hadn’t finally agreed to compromise on what he calls one of the state’s most dramatic reforms in decades.
“Perhaps what’s surprising is that this doesn’t happen with extreme frequency,” Beckwith said. “But today’s a good demonstration of what can happen when everyone rows in the same direction.”
The plan to pare back union involvement when cities and towns pick their employees health care benefits first brought large and vocal protests from unions. Unions successfully fought to retain a voice in negotiating their municipal health insurance.
AFL-CIO President Robert Haynes says municipal workers will make financial sacrifices under the new law, but, he says, they haven’t lost their voice in the process.
“Finally in the end game we still get to sit down with the municipalities and bang out and bargain what health care looks like in that city and town,” Haynes said. “That’s all we ever wanted was a voice.”