All 12 of Easton's labor unions will take part in collective bargaining this winter and spring after selectmen took a vote Monday night not to adopt the State's Municipal Health Insurance Reform Act.
Selectmen voted unanimously with one abstention not to adopt the act this year and continue with traditional methods after town administrator David Colton laid out the town's options.
"I look at that and I say, we can implement this procedure with the reform act which is very unpopular with the unions, and save $73,000, or we can continue doing what we’ve been doing all along, where we have a better time in collective bargaining," Colton said.
Colton didn't recommend accepting the act, largely because he felt the town could achieve the net savings of $73,000 (one percent of budgeted health insurance cost), which could be provided through the act, through collective bargaining. He said cooperation of labor unions in the past has put Easton in a favorable position.
One option within the Municipal Health Insurance Reform Act includes adopting the Group Insurance Commission without collective bargaining. Colton said, in order to do so, the town would have to prove that it could save five percent in health insurance premiums. In Easton, however, cost for the town would increase by 1.4 percent.
Another option would be to adopt a "GIC Mirror Plan." The process, however, would net a savings of $73,505. To save the town $150 per person, it would mean each employee would pay a $750 deductable, a process which Colton said was "a matter of fairness."
"We're charging them $750 in order to get $150. It doesn’t make any sense from a basic fairness point of view in my mind," he said. "I’d rather work with them to try to produce that $150 per person as opposed to imposing this deductable on them this year."
He said that given a 2.8 percent increase in premiums the town would pay this year, it would be difficult to make the case for further cost shifting because this level of increase is sustainable. He also added that collective bargaining has been successful for the town in recent years and labor unions have already made a number of concessions.
In FY 2007, collective bargaining led to a shift in premium cost that was 80- percent town-paid and 20-percent employee paid to 75-percent town paid and 25-percent employee paid. The concession led to $1.5 million in savings since its implementation, Colton said. Unions also shifted to the HMO Blue New England Value Plan in FY 2012, leading to higher co-payments for employees and saving the town $500,000, he said.
Selectmen agreed with Colton's recommendation. Selectman Dan Murphy abstained because of his mother's involvement with the labor unions.
"If you look at it like this with the case before us in the Town of Easton - with our situation right now, it really doesn’t make sense in my opinion to adopt this legislation," Board of Selectmen Chair Colleen Corona said.
Selectwoman Ellen Barlow asked Colton if the town could still save the $73,000 so it wouldn't mean the loss of any jobs.
Colton said, given the town's track record with the unions, that it was an achievable goal. He also added that the town would have the option of adopting the act every year.
"I’m not giving up on saving the $73,000," he said. "I just think we can do it a different way and without implementing a plan that is very unpopular and causing a lot of frustration with the employees. Giving the track record, I think we can do it."