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Mass. Gov. Patrick touts support of union rights

Associated Press | 3/8/2011, 7:07 p.m.

Although revenues have begun to tick up slightly, Massachusetts still faces a projected $1.5 billion spending gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1, meaning another round of belt-tightening is necessary. The state also has a hefty pension and health care burden.

In some ways, Massachusetts has fared better than other states. In December, the state’s unemployment rate was 8.2 percent, well below the national rate of 9.4 percent.

There are efforts in Massachusetts to curb some of the power of public sector unions.

Rep. Daniel Winslow has filed a bill that would preserve what he called traditional collective bargaining topics like wages, hours and working conditions while giving management more control over the use of part-time workers instead of paying overtime.

“When you have almost 10 percent of your people unemployed and you’re paying a 50 percent premium for overtime pay, that simply doesn’t make fiscal sense,” said Winslow, R-Wrentham.

Some union officials say their affinity with Patrick goes beyond his willingness to listen. They say that after growing up poor in Chicago, Patrick has an ability to connect emotionally with working men and women.

“Gov. Patrick has a lot of empathy with people who have to work for a living,” said Harris Gruman, executive director of the SEIU Massachusetts State Council, which has also supported Patrick and represents about 25,000 public employees.

“Negotiating with him is exactly the right kind of hard process,” he said.

Associated Press