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Mass. Union Experts Take On Workers' Rights Debate

This article is more than 12 years old.

Lawmakers in Wisconsin continue to fight over plans to restrict the rights of public workers unions.

In Madison, Wis., protesters defied orders to leave the capitol building, where they have been camped out for days. They remain there Monday morning.

The fight has touched a nerve, sparking debate and many rallies across the nation over the weekend.

Staging our own "debate" with two people on different sides of the issue, we brought together two guests to hear what's at stake in Massachusetts: Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association — the largest teacher's union here — and Jim Sturgeos, who leads the Boston think tank the Pioneer Institute.

According to Sturgeos, the public vs. private sector hiring rate is a cause for concern.

"The fact is, if we're not increasing private sector employment, it's difficult to see how we continue to sustain spiraling health care benefits and pension benefits," Sturgeos said. "Local employees pay very little toward their health insurance premiums, which is why cities and towns have been trying for the past five to six years for the option to join the state health care system, because it would save hundreds of millions of dollars."

"I guess I have to ask the definition of 'paying very little,' because in many of my local associations there are places that are paying 50-50 for their health insurance, and there are other places paying 60-40, 70-30," Toner responded. "There are places that still maybe have 85-15, however in those places it was through negotiations, and they either didn't get raises or gave something else up in order to maintain their health insurance."

This program aired on February 28, 2011.

Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.



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