Boom, boom, boom, boom….20 assault rifle rounds hit a cruiser
with two New Bedford police officers in it as they respond to shots fired at the Foxy Lady. Both men were shot by the gunman. The year was 2006. The two men will wear these bullet wounds for the rest of their lives.
In 2009, New Bedford firemen evacuated over 50 people, 10 of whom were already unconscious, during a chemical leak at ABC disposal – exposing themselves to countless toxins. They risked their lives, to save the lives of others.
In 2014, while executing a search warrant on an apartment of two suspected drug dealers, a New Bedford detective was shot by one of the suspects.
Halloween Night, 2016, while placing a gang of ATV operators under arrest, one of the riders, in an attempt to escape, ran over a New Bedford Police Sergeant.
Five days after last Thanksgiving, a 59-year-old New Bedford firefighter succumbed to cancer. The form of cancer he developed was a direct result of the environments he was exposed to as a 30 year veteran of the New Bedford Fire Department.
Current and former New Bedford policemen are committing suicide.
There are three things that these individuals, and countless others who are not mentioned here, have in common: 1) they are heroes; 2) they sacrificed their health for our safety and; 3) we have an obligation to them.
With the sacrifices of the men and women who have served and do serve our city in mind, I stand unequivocally in opposition to the Mayor’s proposal to adopt Chapter 32, Sections 21 & 23 of the Massachusetts General Laws.
Enacting these sections will enable the Mayor to aggressively, and essentially unilaterally, reduce the health insurance benefits that these first responders, as well as the many other municipal employees who enable our city to function on a daily basis, have been promised, and rely on.
There is undoubtedly a need to control costs but our retirees, surviving spouses, and current public employees need to have a say on deciding what their insurance plans are, and not simply be told what they are after the fact. They’ve earned this right to negotiate.
Health insurance is a partnership between the city and its
employees — partnerships only work, when we work together.
Chp. 32, Sec. 21-23 should be reserved as a tool to incentivize negotiation when talks have stalemated, as statutorily intended. The city has a Public Employee Committee that has scheduled a meeting on February 2nd to discuss healthcare cost saving measures. Only in absence of the committee participating in negotiation, is invoking these sections of Chapter 32 necessary.
I urge this committee and the Mayor to work in good faith to identify concessions. If concessions are not identified, the Mayor can once again file this proposal. However, we owe it to these men and women to give them a chance to negotiate first.
While we are having this conversation, let’s look at alternative measures to increase city revenue while ensuring the health and wellness of our city employees.
One potential remedy to the growing healthcare costs is finding a new healthcare plan. New Bedford is the largest city in the Southeastern Massachusetts region, and we have the option of terminating our current contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield for any reason with 60 days notice. Let’s explore the option of putting our health insurance plan out to market to see if we can find alternative plans that curb expenses that aren’t a detriment to the healthcare of our City employees.
Looking forward, New Bedford should be focused on growing the budget, by advancing transformative infrastructure projects like SouthCoast Rail. To the Mayor’s credit, he has proposed redeveloping the golf course and parts of the waterfront (both within my Ward), and I support these initiatives as ways to increase and diversify our tax base.
We should not balance the budget on the backs of our employees. We as a city are better than that. There is no proof that this proposal will reduce the burden on the tax payer. In fact, the commercial and residential tax rates in other Gateway cities with similar challenges to New Bedford (Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, Pittsfield, and Springfield) all consistently increased in the years following the adoption of these sections.
It is far more likely that any “savings” will enter the general fund and be spent on other municipal services. I cannot in good conscience vote to rob Peter to pay Paul, especially when it is the very people who keep our community functioning and safe whose health and wellbeing will be put at risk.
Hugh C. Dunn, Esq.
City Councillor, Ward 3