© 2023
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Municipal Health Plans, Too Generous?

By Charlie Deitz


Massachusetts – Health plans for municipal workers are breaking the budgets of towns across Massachusetts, that's according to a report released Tuesday. WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz reports that unions are already flared up about the findings.

The name of the report says it all,Municipal Health Plans, Gilded Benefits from a Bygone Era , published by the Boston Foundation and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, whose President Michael Widmer points out that towns and cities pay more for their employees health care than state, federal and private workers get

"But what's striking is how much more generous they are."

With little to no co-pays and deductibles, premiums for the average municipal family plan is some 37 percent higher than a comparable private sector plan and 33 percent higher than federal premiums, which according to Widmer is a main cause for towns having to lay off cops, teachers and firefighters. The analysts looked through the books in 14 different towns to get the results. Doing a quick round up of Berkshire County cities and towns, I found that Pittsfield offers an 85/15 split for workers with the town paying the larger part, Lenox has a 77.5/22.5 split, Lee offers 75/25 and North Adams Mayor Dick Alcombright reports they have a 77/23, Alcombright says their health costs were at 3.1 million dollars 4 years ago.

"This year they should be near 3.8 million."

More than a 20 percent rise over the last 4 years, add that to rising pension costs for retirees.

"Pensions and insurance,that's somewhere around 5.9 million."

About one sixth of the city's 36 million dollar operating budget, and rising. Widmer says the solution is clear.

"Give officials the same power to negotiate plan design, to make changes in municipal plans."

Widmer goes one step further recommending health care be negotiated outside of collective bargaining. This report, according Massachusetts AFL CIO president Robert Haynes is a page right out of the Karl Rove union busting play book, he casts this debate as Madison, Wisconsin all over again. Haynes says city workers have taken zero percent raises, furlough days, and health benefit cuts, and it's the tax breaks we should be talking about.

"We pay the taxes, business don't pay taxes, even to this day they're continuing to cut the corporate tax rate."

Haynes criticizes surveying only 14 towns, which makes up roughly 4 percent of the state and lambastes the two foundations for being blatantly pro-business to the detriment of city workers.

"We're talking about cafeteria workers and clerks,some are paying 25 percent of the wages on health care."

Mayor Alcombright would like to see North Adams switch to a more affordable health plan, but hesitates to shift any more costs on to his employees


AFL CIO Response:

An Open Letter - Gilded Mouthpieces for Big Business Shill Class Warfare Agenda for Corporate Sugar Daddies

After that blatantly manufactured "statewide" report on municipal health insurance ("The Utility of Trouble, Municipal Health Plans: Gilded Benefits from a Bygone Era" 4/5/11) released by The Boston Foundation and Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Paul Grogan and Michael Widmer need to change the names of their organizations; and the press needs to start reporting them for what they are. They represent the most one-sided interests of anyone engaged in public debate today: big business. The same big businesses that have record profits, and for the first time in history stole all the productivity gains from workers and kept them as profits, are who fund, generously, the smokescreen "think tanks" that produced that report. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation should be called the Massachusetts Business Taxpayers Foundation. But alas, businesses don't pay taxes in this country or in this commonwealth like the rest of us do, so Widmer should completely reinvent his group's name. The Mass. Budget and Policy Center reports that the businesses like those that bankrolled Widmer and Grogan only paid 6.4% of total taxes in this state, compared to regular working people who paid 36.8% of the total in personal income taxes. No wonder Paul Grogan has allowed The Boston Foundation to so drastically lose its way; a lot of the money they're saving on taxes is going to his endowment.
The only thing gilded about that report are the salaries of Paul Grogan and Michael Widmer, both of whom are making closer to a half-million dollars than they are to your average municipal workers' salary. That is, unless, you're talking about Jeffrey D. Nutting, Franklin Town Manager prominently featured in a Boston Globe story, who makes $128,125 per year, had his entire relocation from Medway to Franklin paid for by the taxpayers, has a $6,000 annual car stipend, $4,000 per year in lieu of long-term disability payment, a retirement plan, 47 days of paid time off every year, and an insurance annuity, in addition to health insurance even better than the "gilded" benefits he criticizes those selfish women in the school cafeterias for having; cafeteria workers who make barely above minimum wage, haven't seen a raise in years, and whose personal share of health insurance costs has gone up every year. This is an all-out public relations assault on the working class by big, shadowy, selfish business interests and its being waged by their shameless mouthpieces like Widmer and Grogan who masquerade as some kind of defenders of the public interest. The public would be shocked at whose interests they're really shilling. Of course, they'll never know if the press doesn't bother to report it.
Workers could very easily cherry pick the fourteen communities with the worst health insurance benefits and produce a report that just as strongly supports our position that municipal workers pay their fair share and have historically, time and again, given up raises in order to maintain their health insurance benefits. More shameful than the bias and foregone conclusion nature of this "statewide" report is the press reporting on it as if it was comprehensive and portraying it as an actual reflection of all health insurance benefits for public workers around the state. Municipal workers don't have "overly generous" benefits, no matter how many times Widmer and Grogan parrot that phrase. They have benefits, just like we all should have, whether union or not, whether public or private sector. The report's methodology is so fundamentally flawed that even the most lax professor would give it a failing grade; the communities were chosen because they had the very best benefits and those with worse benefits were not included. A statewide report should have a bigger sample than just fourteen out of 351, or just 4-percent, of cities and towns. And the press should be better than to print it as gospel.

Robert J. Haynes
President, Massachusetts AFL-CIO
389 Main Street Malden, MA 02148