Assault on Unions Comes to... Massachusetts?

Massachusetts, the liberal hellhole run by a Democratic governor and two Democratic legislative chambers, is the latest, most surprising state to pick a fight with public employees' unions over collective bargaining rights.

The state House passed a bargaining rights bill Tuesday night with ease, 111-42. It's the work of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and it sounds much like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposal that caused such a ruckus earlier this year. From the Boston Globe:

House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last night to strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care, saying the change would save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns.

AFL-CIO leaders find this move by a Democratic chamber "stunning" and promise to raise hell in the month or so before it's taken up by the state Senate.

It's unclear whether Gov. Deval Patrick would sign this bill if it reached him, but he has boldly stated, "This is not Wisconsin." How would Massachusetts not be Wisconsin, though? After a tweak, of course! Labor reporter Mike Elk writes that Patrick has floated a more moderate proposal that "gives unions a limited time window to bargain before local officials would be allowed to impose their own health care benefit plans unilaterally without coming to a collective bargaining agreement." You'll get five seconds, unions. Bargain quickly.

So why is a Democratic stronghold like Massachusetts following a path similar to that of so many Republican-run states? Here's Elk's theory:

Many have framed the attacks on collective bargaining rights as a tactic for Republicans to eliminate the Democrats base. However, this simplifies who is attacking public employee unions. At the time when Obama called for a federal wage freeze in November, I wondered on this website whether it was Obama's PATCO moment, which opened up the door for more attacks on public workers. (In 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization en masse.)

While Democrats have been less brazen in their attacks on public employees' unions, they have still attacked public employees unions. Why is that? It's because it's often less politically risky for Demcorats weary of taking on the rich to go after unions than to call for higher taxes on the rich.

[Image via AP]