by Angela Chagnon
The Vermont Senate passed a resolution Tuesday expressing support for the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
There has been a controversial question swirling around the compatibility of a single payer system with a single, government defined benefit package and the ability of public employees to collectively bargain for better benefits. Logic dictates that once the “essential” benefits package is determined by the five member panel, that’s it. There’s nothing to bargain over, at least as far as the government is concerned.
True North Reports sat down with Senator Jeanette White (D-Windham), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and a sponsor of the resolution, to see if she could help clear up how this could work.
I don’t know that [public employees] would even have a supplemental policy. That isn’t a given at all.
TNR: According to this healthcare bill, will unions still be able to bargain for benefits?
JW: The way I would do it, I don’t know exactly how the bill is written, but if I were doing it I would remove health benefits from the employer so it’s no longer connected to the employer, so now there’s no reason for them to bargain for health benefits for the essential package because it’s no longer connected to employment. If people want to bargain for supplemental policies, that’s fine.
TNR: If employees do bargain for these supplemental policies, will taxpayers have to pick up the tab?
JW: No. No, it could be a benefit of your job, just like, “We’re going to pay you $20,” or, “We’re going to pay your supplemental policy,” and they–people do that, and–they do it all over.
JW: So, it isn’t your basic essential health care. It’s not connected to your employment. If your employer wants to pay for a supplemental policy for you, that’s fine.
TNR: Some union representatives said they’d only support this bill only if everyone got the same benefits. So…
JW: Right. The same essential benefits. Because people will be able to buy supplemental policies on their own, in addition to the essential package, so everybody won’t have the same package. Everybody will have the same minimum package.
TNR: So, for public employees the employer is the government.
TNR: So their supplemental policies would be paid for by taxpayers?
JW: I don’t know that they’d even have a supplemental policy. That isn’t a given at all. I mean, I haven’t–uh–I–I don’t know. They bargain for their wages, bargain for time off, for–not for retirement benefits, because we set those, for vacations and other benefits. Whether they would be allowed to bargain for–as part of their benefit package, supplemental policy, I don’t know.
TNR: Would you support that if it was part of the bill?
JW: I haven’t even gotten that far yet, so I don’t know. I probably would, but I’d have to look at it and see what it meant. I don’t know.
Senate leaders have expressed a desire to vote on the health care bill (H.202) by April 13th. That’s just a week away.