In Wisconsin and Ohio, new Republican majorities in state legislatures, and new Republican governors, have modified public employee collective bargaining rights and argued that it is part of an overall effort to bring state and local government budgets back into balance. Democrats have responded that the budget control argument is a bogus fig leaf and that the real motivation for the Republicans’ actions is union-busting, pure and simple.
It therefore is interesting that in Massachusetts — Massachusetts! — the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill to restrict the ability of municipal public employees to collectively bargain about health care benefits. Moreover, the House effort was led by Democrats, who argued that the changes will help struggling cities and towns. Indeed, the Democratic Speaker of the House contended that the changes would save cash-strapped municipalities $100 million and allow them to maintain more jobs and provide more services.
The Massachusetts initiative still has to pass the Senate and be signed by the Governor, so it may well not become law. Still, the fact that Democrats in the Massachusetts House supported such a measure on budget grounds seems like a powerful argument for the proposition that modifying public employee collective bargaining rights is a legitimate way to achieve significant savings in government spending. If Democrats have accepted that argument in Massachusetts, how can Democrats in Ohio and Wisconsin contend that similar efforts in their states are motivated wholly by partisan politics and mindless anti-union sentiment?