Colorado state government employees got the green light in 2007 to set up partnership agreements through labor unions—critics called it de facto collective bargaining—under an executive order by then-Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter. A Republican measure that sought to reverse that policy was killed today in the Senate State, Veteran, and Military Affairs Committee. It was stopped on a party-line vote, with majority Democrats against the proposal.
Senate Bill 38, by Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, would have repealed the executive order “before its impact becomes unaffordable,” according to Mitchell. In the current fiscal climate there is zero wiggle room for increasing salaries for state employees, but Mitchell said he believes that one of the goals of unionization is to secure higher salaries down the road.
“It threatens to create problems,” said Mitchell. “Nothing was broken and nothing needed to be fixed when the governor signed the order. When the economy improves, the inclination will be to ask for more money for state employees who are already on average 10 percent above their counterparts in other states.”
Speaking in support of SB38 was David Ohmart, a state employee, who started a group called Colorado LOSES—Lousy Options Steal Employees’ Salaries—as a counterweight to the state employees’ union Colorado WINS, or Colorado Workers for Innovations and New Solutions. Colorado WINS was formed shortly after the executive order. Ohmart told the committee that it is his understanding that less than 1,000 of the state’s 31,000 employees have opted to join WINS, indicating that most employees would be indifferent to a repeal of the order.
Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood both said that repealing the order through legislation would only create ill will among state employees toward Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who could do what he wants anyway by vetoing the bill.
“Ultimately its up to the governor. It’s really in the governor’s court, regardless of what we do,” said Bacon.
Said Boyd, “I’m not comfortable tying the hands of the governor.”
Mitchell responded that the question of whether or not state employees needed the help of an organization such as WINS to pressure the state to protect their interests resides with lawmakers.
“It should be shaped by the legislature and those who elect us to public office,” said Mitchell. “Public policy should be determined by what’s in the public’s best interest, not by a group that wants to expand the state budget.”
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