North Adams to Open Insurance Talks With Unions
The City Council on Tuesday night adopted at the recommendation of Mayor John Barrett III a state law amended in 2007 in large part to allow muncipalities and governing bodies to joing the state's health insurance plan.
The city's seven unions had banded together last year in an effort to push the city into joining the Group Insurance Commission, claiming savings of a $1 million or more. The mayor had disputed those supposed savings, saying state option would cost the city more than its self-insured plan.
But the city has agreed to discuss insurance plans as part of its contract settlement with its largest union, the North Adams Teachers Association. The teachers are the last union to come to a new contract agreement with the city.
"We have reached a contract settlement with the teachers and are awaiting ratification," the mayor told the council. "We're going to try to negotiate changes to our health care plan. Does that mean GIC? Not necessarily."
Barrett said the city was looking to implement a "plan design" insurance, similar to what it had offered the unions last fall after complaints over high premium costs by part-time workers. Those changes had been rejected by the unions because they were not negotiated.
The irony, said the mayor, is that while communities have been advocating plan design as a way to cut costs GIC already has it — it offers a variety of options and prices that it can change at any time. "We don't have that luxury at the local level. We have to negotiate every change and if there's no unanimous approval, there's no change."
GIC covers more than 250,000 state employees. As part of Gov. Deval Patrick's Municipal Partnership Act two years ago, cities, towns, school districts and others were able to join the GIC but would have to sign on for three year or six years. Entrance into the GIC requires majority agreement from unions and municipal bodies.
The negotiations would affect insurance for fiscal 2011 although, the mayor said in reponse to a question by Councilor Michael Bloom, changes could be implemented sooner if both sides and the insurance company are agreeable. GIC, however, requires enrollment by October for coverage to begin the following July. Last year, the state delayed the enrollment deadline to December because a number of groups were still negotiating.
No increases in insurance costs are anticipated for this year, said Barrett. "We're ready to sit down at this stage of the game, whereas a year ago, it wasn't advantageous for us."
The mayor had planned to present the council with $98,000 more in cuts to the budget as he tries to close a half-million dollar budget gap. Instead, he said he will come back in two weeks after the books are closed for April to get a clearer picture of the financial situation. He still has to slice $240,000.
"It's getting to be a struggle now to find the money," he said.
Towns and cities across the state are being pinched by cuts in grants and local aid as the state tries to balance its budget against falling revenues.
The council also approved a resolution presented by Councilor Gailanne Cariddi calling on Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, to oppose the a House budget that could cost the city a third of its state aid.
"I thought the council should go on record one way or the other on what's happening at the State House," said Cariddi.
The resolution calls on Bosley to consider recommendations by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, including charter school funding reform and closing telecom tax loopholes. Councilor Marie Harpin suggested sending the resolution to not only Bosley but the rest of the Berkshire delegation, which was approved by the panel.
The board also OK'ed the renewal of a license to operate a secondhand shop for Sanford and Kid of Houghton Street. A presentation by Eleanor Tillinghast of Berkshire Green on the Hoosac Wind Project in the town of Florida was postponed because she was unable to attend the meeting.