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Patrick signs law changing labor union role in health care plans for cities and towns

Posted July 12, 2011 05:46 PM

By Noah Bierman, Globe Staff

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said this morning that if someone had told him months ago that the state’s labor leaders would be celebrating a new state law with the business groups that had been trying to curb their rights, “I would have said you were out of your mind.”

But both groups were standing in the governor’s office this morning -- albeit on opposite sides of the room -- as Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a measure that will limit some rights of labor unions representing teachers, firefighters, and other local government workers to negotiate reductions in their health care benefits.

With political pressure to make the changes, organized labor had little choice but to try to squeeze out a few last-minute concessions from Beacon Hill. Those were apparently enough to lay aside their once vociferous opposition.

“It’s fashionable in politics today, I’ve noticed, to bully people,” Patrick, a Democrat, said during the signing, implicitly contrasting his approach with that of more confrontational Republican governors such as New Jersey’s Chris Christie. “You say more about how you’re going to stick it to somebody. And that attracts all the attention.”

In addition to DeLeo, the crowd at the bill signing included Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, Senate President Therese Murray, Mayor Scott Lang of New Bedford, Robert J. Haynes, president of the AFL-CIO of Massachusetts, and Geoff Beckwith, the executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

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