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Bargaining talks in Newton to focus on health costs

Reining in the cost of employee health insurance is high on the agenda as city officials prepare to negotiate new labor agreements with municipal and school workers later this summer.

“We will soon be working collaboratively with our union leaderships to figure out the best way to provide excellent health insurance while controlling cost,” Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said.

The city faces annual increases of 5 percent to 8 percent in health insurance costs for city and school employees, Fuller said. In fiscal year 2018, which ended June 30, Newton spent about $65 million on health care.

Those costs are “putting a lot of pressure on our budget,” the mayor said.


The School Committee — which includes Fuller as a member — is meeting with the Newton Teachers Association, the city’s largest union, in late August, she said. Fuller also will be meeting with union leaders representing municipal workers in September.

The goal will be to “come up with a package that is fair to our valued employees and fair to our taxpayers,” Fuller said.

The contracts for all 10 unions representing municipal workers in Newton have ended, according to Ellen Ishkanian, a city spokeswoman.

The School Committee is working on a one-year contract extension with school secretaries, and is close to completing talks on a long-sought deal for school custodians, said Ruth Goldman, the board’s chairwoman.

Michael Zilles, who leads the Newton Teachers Association, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about upcoming talks for a new three-year contract, and is hopeful the sides will avoid a drawn-out negotiation.

The union — which represents teachers, aides, and many school staff members — and the School Committee signed a one-year contract extension in May that runs through the summer of 2019.

Zilles said health insurance will be an important factor in talks for a future deal. “From my members’ point of view, maintaining their health insurance is one of their biggest priorities,” Zilles said.


Alan McDonald, an attorney who represents the custodians and the Newton Police Association, which includes the city’s rank-and-file police officers, said any health insurance proposal will be evaluated when it is made during negotiations for those unions.

He also represents the Boston Newspaper Guild, the union that includes reporters and other staff at The Boston Globe.

“We look forward to it being a constructive round [of negotiations],” McDonald said. “And we are comfortable the mayor and her team will look at it in the same light.”

Marc Rizza, who is president of the Newton Firefighters Association, said he has had friendly informal meetings with the mayor since she took office in January. He said he’ll be meeting with his team in the next few weeks to prepare for negotiations.

“I’m optimistic that they’ll give us a fair shake,” Rizza said.

John Hilliard can be reached at