Feb. 27--PEABODY -- The City Council is holding a special meeting tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall to consider whether to adopt new state legislation that would restrict city unions' bargaining rights on health care.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt has met three times this month with a coalition of union leaders to try to hash out a cost-saving plan that makes sense for the city and the unions. If such a compromise were reached, the mayor has said, adopting the legislation would not be necessary.
But while details of the negotiations have been kept under wraps, as of Friday, the mayor still planned to move forward with the special meeting to consider the health care legislation. The most recent meeting with unions was last Thursday.
The law, passed by the Massachusetts Legislature last summer, gives cities and towns much broader power in negotiating with unions and saves money for taxpayers by shifting some health insurance costs onto employees in the form of higher copays and deductibles.
Peabody could save up to $4 million per year on health insurance if it were to adopt the law, according to a health consultant. Beverly, which has already adopted the law, is projected to save $1.2 million per year in reduced health insurance costs.
When the matter was first discussed in Peabody on Feb. 9, about 100 union members showed up to voice concerns. The council did not allow them to speak then, but tomorrow's meeting will be an open forum where union members will be allowed to speak.
Bettencourt is also expected to make a presentation at tomorrow's meeting, detailing time lines, the process and providing estimates on how much the city would save under various plans.
Bettencourt has told union leadership that "good faith" negotiations would continue after the health insurance reform is adopted. The mayor and the union coalition have already scheduled two additional meetings for this Thursday and next Thursday, according to Christopher Ryder, the mayor's chief of staff.
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