Denver Dailies “Right To Work”

    If initiative backers have their way, Colorado will be voting on a controversial “right to work” ballot measure in 2008. Their aim is to ban union agreements that require membership fees from employees, whether they choose to join a labor union or not.

    Currently, “right to work” is right at home in the state’s two largest newspapers where scribes for Denver’s two major news dailies are working under a “right to work” situation —  employees can receive negotiated benefits such as health insurance and annual pay increases without paying union dues.

    David Harsanyi, a Post columnist and outspoken supporter of “right to work,” is covered under the Denver Newspaper Guild contract, where employees of the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News can decide to voluntarily support the guild with membership fees .

    “Obviously, employees should always have the freedom to collectively bargain,” says Harsanyi, who did not wish to comment publicly on the guild’s agreement. “But a worker who would rather not be part of that collective–because they disagree with the union’s position, or don’t view unions as “protection,” or have conflicting political views–should have the freedom to bargain individually.”

    According to Tracy Simmons, an administrative officer with the guild, the union represents newsroom journalists not identifying as management, with the exclusion of some columnists.

    “The rest of the people who are covered by the contract are in what’s called an open shop,” says Simmons. “Under the laws of this country they get the benefits of the contract. They do not pay any sort of dues or fees. Any membership is voluntary.”

    The guild’s contracts with the Post and the Rocky will be up for renewal in March of next year. Currently, they include stipulations on issues including wages, working hours, health care and vacations.

    When was asked if he would support labor agreements similar to the one in his own workplace, without mandatory fees, Harsanyi replied “‘I’d have to see more on the guild system, but if it coerces membership, no, I wouldn’t like it.”

    While employees can opt out of paying the guild, Simmons says membership is necessary to union existence.

    “There are some people who are members. But without those members there would be no union,” she says. “When everybody takes the free lunch there’s no union.”

    More coverage:

    “Right To Work” Issue Not So Black And White For Attracting Businesses

    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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