Colorado lawmakers dealt another blow Friday to a bill that originally was meant to empower hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers, but that now applies to a shrinking sliver of that group.
The bill, SB22-230, began as an effort to grant public employees in cities, counties, special districts, K-12 districts and higher-education institutions the right to unionize without needing recognition from bosses, plus the right to bargain collectively over wages, benefits and working conditions.
Democratic Gov. Jared Polis made clear early in this legislative session that he was open to granting only limited labor rights to county and higher-education workers, and the Democratic lawmakers leading the bill responded by cutting the other groups out. It pained them to do it, they said at the time, but it was a necessary move to calm the governor and get something passed.
Later a philosophical rift among higher-education workers led the bill’s backers to cut their policy down again, to the point that it applied just to county workers — except for those in Broomfield or Denver, the two Colorado counties that are also cities.
On Friday in the state House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans joined to approve an amendment exempting Colorado’s 14 smallest counties from the bill: Custer, Ouray, Washington, Phillips, Costilla, Baca, Sedgwick, Cheyenne, Dolores, Kiowa, Jackson, Mineral, Hinsdale and San Juan.
None of these counties has a population of more than 5,000, so the amendment affects relatively few workers. But it’s a major concession by backers of a policy intended to hand new labor organizing rights to as many workers as possible from across the state.
“This entire bill has been a rollercoaster ride,” said House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a lead sponsor of the bill and a Pueblo Democrat. “From the beginning of how we wanted to do this for every single public-service employee to now we’re sitting here with county employees, it’s been difficult to not have full rights for every single person.”
The bill advanced in the House on Friday on a voice vote and is virtually guaranteed to pass before the legislative session ends Wednesday.
The latest amendment followed loud and sustained grumbling by Republican lawmakers on behalf of the consortium of counties, Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI), a potent lobbying force at the Capitol.
CCI and the many (mostly conservative) elected commissioners it represents have raised concerns repeatedly about the bill, on the grounds that it will be difficult and costly to implement. They have said that county workplaces are like families and warned that the bill would create a new and unnecessarily adversarial dynamic in these workplaces — historically a common talking point among those who would seek to thwart organized labor.
Contrary to some commissioners’ claims, the bill will not force counties to spend hundreds of millions of dollars cumulatively. That assumes every county worker unit unionizes and wins big raises in bargaining, which is not going to happen. The bill lets commissioners opt out of agreeing to a contract with a union if they don’t like the contract, as there is no binding arbitration or anything else in the bill that would compel county leaders to sign off on pay raises or new benefits.
But it is true that the bill forces counties to at least prepare for county workers to unionize. Under SB22-230, county leaders could not stop a union from forming, as they can now by declining to recognize a unit that declares intent to unionize. Few around the Capitol believe that many Colorado counties would very quickly see new unions after this bill passes, but still, CCI has said, it takes time and money to adjust to a new policy of this nature.
Esgar said she agreed to Friday’s amendment because she thinks it’s fair to leave off the tiniest counties in Colorado.
“I am listening to counties, and I am hearing what they are saying, and the legitimacy of not being able to implement some of what we’re asking them to do if they don’t even have internet or they operate off of a fax machine,” she said.
Conservative county commissioners and their allies in the legislature don’t like the bill but feel they’ve put a real dent in it.
“The commissioners, they’re in control of the budget,” said state Sen. Dennis Hisey of Fountain, a Republican and former El Paso County commissioner.
“They can opt out of participating with the unions, be a non-union shop. The union would still be recognized, there would still be the vote. But they can’t force the commissioners to agree.
“It’s something that I didn’t really think we’d get. I think it’s a win.”
The basic partisan divide on the topic of organized labor was evident in the Colorado House on Friday.
“We want to help working people in our state,” said state Rep. Judy Amabile, a Boulder Democrat. “I’m guessing all of us have that as part of our campaign pledge.”
She added, “I wonder: How are we doing that? What are the things that we do in this chamber that help the little guy, the person working for minimum wage? … I would suggest that collective bargaining and unions have been one of the things that has been proven to help elevate working people, to help them get ahead, to help them make more money, to help them have a better job and better life.
Then Republican state Rep. Dan Woog of Erie took the lectern.
“I didn’t make a promise to lift up anyone,” he said. “I believe in Colorado residents. They’re going to lift themselves up.”
Source: Read Full Article