New Age Union Busting

    A new age of union busting has dawned in Aurora, known by some as “the Bronx of Denver,” totaling more than 300,000 people.

    City Council member Ryan Frazier is sponsoring a state initiative to make it harder for labor unions to exist, in a state where union membership already composes less than 10 percent of the workforce to begin with.

    Coming to a ballot near you?Frazier is trying to change the law to nullify “union shop” agreements in Colorado, where workers are required to join the preexisting union after a minimum period upon accepting the job.  Union shop agreements protect a union’s organization, by thwarting any attempts made by an employer to flush the workforce with anti-union workers.

    Those opposing unions have titled legislation eliminating closed shop agreements as “right to work” proposals, but members of the labor community have also called it “right to work for less.”

    Colorado is unique when it comes to the subject of organizing. The state is neither “right to work” or the most labor friendly. Instead there’s the Colorado Labor Peace Act, which resides somewhere in the middle. The 1943 law crept into the lime light in February, when local lawmakers were debating a bill to strike a provision in the act requiring a second supermajority election before a workplace can become a union shop.

    Frazier’s proposal, if it passes through the initiative process and receives the number of required signatures, will be up for a vote in 2008. The Councilman will be up for reelection this November.

    John Berry, the attorney who submitted the initiative to the Legislative Council, has also headed the Workers’ Compensation Coalition Inc., whose members reportedly include 450 businesses statewide.

    Union membership has plummeted since the early 1980s, and many unions are bypassing traditional ways of organizing through government regulated elections in favor of negotiating directly with businesses.

    But all the organizing could become null and void if Colorado is made a “right to work” state, and union proponents could be marching into a decisive battle over the future of labor’s influence.

    Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at

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