As a teacher and member of the executive board of the North Adams Teachers Association, I have urged our city leaders to consider switching to a comparable, yet more affordable, health insurance plan. Our current premiums are among the highest in the state.
Meanwhile, a publicly available analysis has shown that if North Adams switched to the GIC, (The Group Insurance Commission, which carries the plans currently offered to state employees and legislators), the city and its employees could realize combined savings of roughly $1. 5 million. The mayor has disputed those figures but has not presented evidence to the contrary.
With this much money at stake, and in these hard times, shouldn't the two sides at least agree to sit down and bargain the issue in good faith? And so, I welcomed Mayor John Barrett's invitation -- as reported in the Dec. 2 Transcript -- to come to City Hall because "his door is open to any union employee who wants to see the real figures." I asked my MTA field representative, Cindy Polinsky, to join me, and we arrived at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon.
The meeting began pleasantly enough. Cindy and I stopped at the mayor's office and were directed to Nancy Ziter's office by the mayor's assistant. Ms. Ziter invited us in, and we began a very respectful discussion.
Suddenly, Mayor John Barrett charged into the room and screamed, "GET OUT!" During the roughly 20-minute harangue that followed, the mayor shouted at Cindy, his finger inches from her face at times. At one point, the mayor directed Ms. Ziter to call the police, which she began to do.
I told the mayor that I was a city resident and employee and that Cindy was there at my request. Cindy had already explained that, as my union designee, she had every right to be there. I found it bizarre to be in the position of defending anyone's right to be at City Hall. But it didn't matter. The mayor continued shouting at us and then began to shout for the commissioner of public safety. Finally, the mayor made clear that, as a city employee on the city's health insurance, I could stay. But the mayor insisted that Cindy leave.
I hadn't come looking for a fight. I had come to discuss legitimate concerns and to see "real figures" within the public domain, in a public building. But it seemed clear that the mayor would have Cindy thrown out or arrested if she didn't leave. No professional, constructive discussion was possible, so we left.
I am appalled and disappointed that the man I have long supported and even defended as "always having the best interest of the city at heart" would behave in such a manner.
Argue with us, disagree with us, get passionate about your position. No problem. We welcome vigorous and respectful debate. But this encounter started at a level beyond absurd and quickly got worse. It doesn't seem too much to expect that our city officials treat people with decency and respect. I think it's time we demand it.
Because of the mayor's unwillingness to negotiate, the city has missed its chance to join the GIC in the upcoming fiscal year and lost the accompanying savings. It is my hope that Mayor Barrett will quickly comply with our request to make available the important and legitimate information that he has promised to provide and that he will sit down with the coalition of unions to explore and bargain over affordable health care. Let's not miss another opportunity.