Acton Teachers Protest Chapter 69 Outside the Town Hall Monday Night [VIDEO]
Here is a video of a few members from the Acton Education Association explaining why they do not agree with Chapter 69, a “Municipal Health Insurance Reform,” enacted by the Massachusetts State Legislature. Also, a video of Sen. Jamie Eldridge speaking.
Editor's note: At Monday night's Board of Selectmen meeting, the board decided not to vote on Chapter 69 and extended the vote until its Nov. 21 meeting. Members said they wanted people to be more informed about Chapter 69.
Here is a timely press release from the Acton Education Association (AEA):
For the half hour prior to this evening’s Board of Selectmen meeting, beginning at 6:30, members of the Acton Education Association will be demonstrating outside Acton Town Hall over a planned attempt by the Board to make unnecessary unilateral changes to educators’ health insurance, on the heels of a contract settlement between the teachers union and the Acton School Committee.
At tonight’s Acton Board of Selectmen meeting, a vote will be taken on whether to take the unprecedented action of making changes to the health insurance benefits of the Town’s educators -- something that has always been the purview of the elected Acton Public School Committee (Editor's note: the vote did not take place and was rescheduled for Nov. 21). The Acton Education Association has argued that such action is unnecessary and violates the spirit – if not the letter – of the law.
It appears that the Board of Selectmen is poised to needlessly turn the cooperative relationship that exists between Acton’s teachers and the School Committee into a confrontational relationship between the teachers and the Town.
Last spring, the Massachusetts State Legislature enacted “Municipal Health Insurance Reform,” Chapter 69 of the Acts of 2011. The legislation, signed into law by Governor Patrick this summer, allows “the appropriate municipal public authority…to make health insurance plan design changes or to transfer the community into the state’s Group Insurance Commission.”
At last Thursday’s joint meeting of the Acton Public School Committee, Acton-Boxborough Regional School Committee, and Acton Board of Selectmen, Selectmen Janet Adachi read portions of the law. The legislation’s very first sentence describes Chapter 69 as “an emergency law,” though not a member of the Board, nor the Town Manager, have yet to explain what the emergency is.
This legislation was never intended to simply provide public authorities the opportunity to make health insurance plan design changes at their whim. That power was meant to be used only when a community was in dire financial shape and when traditional bargaining was not successful in achieving a town’s needs. Neither of those conditions is true here in Acton. At several public meetings recently it’s been reported that the Town of Acton is in much better financial shape than had been predicted.
“What is most upsetting about this,” commented AEA President Marc Lewis, “is that our union, and the two other school unions, made every concession that the School Committed asked us to during our last negotiations.” When negotiations with the teachers union began two years ago, the School Committee asked the AEA to make
two major changes to their health insurance: educators on the indemnity plan were asked to pay 50% of their health insurance premiums, up from the 15% they were paying – a difference of thousands of dollars per person, and the rest were asked to pay 10% more of our premiums -- in addition to concessions in other aspects of their contract.
Lewis continued, “We argued, we all grew frustrated, at times it was tense and unpleasant, and there were days when I left feeling hopeless that a resolution was possible. But we all persevered, together, elected officials and union leaders, and collectively met our civic obligations. It took time, but we emerged from the table with a contract that mirrored the school committees’ health insurance proposal. We agreed to exactly what the school committees said the Town needed. Traditional bargaining, in good faith, with people with whom you’ve spent the time to build relationships, works.”
The Acton-Boxborough Regional School Committee agreed that the Board of Selectmen’s voting to adopt Chapter 69 would not be prudent. In a letter to Mike Gowing, Chair of the Acton Board of Selectmen, dated November 4, 2011, School Committee Chair John Petersen shared a resolution adopted by the school committee the previous evening: “We believe that it is not prudent to move forward without good information and we respectfully request that the Acton Board of Selectmen seriously consider not beginning the process of adopting Chapter 69 at their meeting on Monday night.”
“Chapter 69 is needed in some places,” Lewis explained. “There are some communities that are experiencing fiscal emergencies and where remedies could not be achieved at the bargaining table. This is not one of those communities. Just because people are given power, does not mean they need to use it.”
The Acton Education Association is the professional organization of over 375 classroom teachers, specialized teaching personnel, school counselors, department chairpersons, librarians, and nurses who work in the five Acton Public Schools and two Acton-Boxborough Regional Schools. It is the local affiliate of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA).