Unions Fight Health Insurance Increase

Unions Fight Health Insurance Increase

Fall 2015

Lorenzo Nencioli, FSU Staff

On March 4, 2015 Governor Baker unveiled his proposal for a fiscal year 2016 state budget. Included in the budget was a proposed increase in the percentage split paid by state employees for health insurance premiums (employees hired before June 2003 pay 20% of the premiums with the state paying the rest; the proposal would have increased the share paid by all employees to 25%).  For members on family plans, this change would have resulted in an annual premium increase of $720 to $1,200.

The reaction from state employee unions was swift. Unions organized immediately to encourage members to contact their senators and representatives and urge them not to further burden working families by shifting the costs of health insurance further away from the employer and onto their employees. The MTA in particular mobilized thousands of members to inundate the State House with phone calls and emails opposing the proposed premium increase. Barbara Madeloni, President of the MTA, spoke at an anti-health premium increase lobby day at the State House on April 2, 2015. She was joined by dozens of MTA members who came in person to deliver a message to their reps and senators- this proposal is unfair and must be opposed.

On July 17, 2016, Governor Baker signed the FY16 MA budget into law. One thing that was not in the budget: the proposed 5% increase in health insurance premiums to be paid by state employees.

It was only after the unions and, more importantly, thousands of union members, voiced their strong opposition to the proposed premium increase that the House and Senate removed it from the budget that the Governor would eventually sign into law. This was a great victory, one that would save many union members up to $1,200 a year.

Although the actions taken by thousands of union members in opposing the proposed premium increases were critical for this successful fight, union staffers and the allocation of a substantial amount of union resources are also essential. It takes a sizable infrastructure to mount such a campaign: Postcards and informational literature needs to be written, printed, and distributed. Staff constantly maintain and update email, mail, and phone distribution lists and ensure that MTA members are updated and informed on all the issues. And this doesn’t even include the salaries of the MTA lobbyists and field representatives who provide vital organizational support to their locals.

The question is often asked: apart from bargaining contracts and representing members during grievances, what is it that the union does for its members? In the fight against the proposed health care premium increase we have an answer. The MTA is the largest union in the state, representing over 100,000 teachers, faculty members, and staffers in K-12 and in higher education. Its voice is a powerful one on Beacon Hill. Legislators know that when they support proposed legislation that is opposed by the MTA and its members they risk the ire of a mobilized, highly influential rank and file organization with significant resources at its disposal.

This doesn’t mean the MTA and other public sector employee unions always succeed in reversing the course of legislation that would be harmful to its members. But a strong union does ensure that the voice of thousands of educators and state employees will be heard at the State House and beyond—and it makes it that much more possible for victories such as this to occur.

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