Where do we go from here?
Our Point of View, by MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver
About that salary freeze...Little good can be said about the pain state and university employees are suffering as they work their way through a two-year long salary freeze. When we bargained that freeze immediately before the 2009 Legislature, Montana was descending into the Great Recession. And there was no purported “surplus.” We doubt one exists today despite curious assertions to the contrary. But the deal we made with the governor and passed through the 2009 Legislature did in fact save jobs and fund employee health insurance for the biennium. At the time, that was a good deal, the only deal we could make.
But salary freezes just don’t wear well over time. Lest anyone wonders, MEA-MFT will not bargain another salary freeze. If unable to make a salary gain when we next meet the governor’s representatives at the prebudget bargaining table, we will take our chances with the next legislature. Damn the considerable political risks.
And it is wholly regrettable that school employees in far too many districts are right now bargaining salary freezes of their own. Uncertain state funding, escalating health insurance costs, and declining enrollment continue to pound away at the salaries school employees deserve.
So what about health insurance reform...? No matter how hard I try to feel good about the health insurance reforms Congress recently passed and the president signed, I just can’t get there. I see no health insurance cost controls. Zero. In fact, a couple of reforms, good as they might be, right along with other mandated coverages, will drive up the costs of health insurance for everyone. Meanwhile, school employees across the state have no reason whatsoever to believe that next year or ever again they will be able to afford the health insurance they have now. Never again.
Absent a mandatory, statewide health insurance pool, there is NO way to control school employee health insurance costs. Too many plans. Too many on-the-job-training school health insurance managers including administrators and teachers. Too many vendors making serious money at premium payers’ expense. Consequently, as we have tried in the past, we will try again in the next legislature to create a mandatory, statewide, school employee health insurance pool. As we have frequently noted, state and university employees, regardless of where they live and work, all have their own mandatory statewide health insurance pool. So should school employees. Bar none. The law of large numbers works. Our plan would save everyone money, including taxpayers.
Finally, what has my union done for me lately...? At times like this, the question “what has my union done for me today” falls rather easily off members’ lips. My standard response is to urge folks to think longitudinally. Our union has been doing great stuff for years of days. Need proof? Visit www. mea-mft.org. Click on “A proud history of MEA-MFT victories” in the News section.
No fooling, MEA-MFT does plenty every day…but the best thing we do is represent so many talented, committed public employees: k-12 teachers and university faculty; correctional and probation officers; nurses; revenue collectors; Head Start instructors; child and family advocates; k-12 paraprofessionals; historical society archivists and historians; Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists; Cascade County deputy attorneys; Butte Silver Bow librarians; education students and retirees…the list goes on and on.
MEA-MFT works for all our members. We do not represent one membership group at the expense of another. Our diversity makes us strong. It gives us a far better picture of how we all belong to each other. Everyday we see how our members’ work intersects and unites to make Montana a desirable place to live. In the last analysis, we are almost all public employees paid for out of the public purse to do the work that matters.
Wherever we go next, we will all go together.