Ballot Measures Stir Small-Business Concerns

While labor groups have submitted a slew of proposals for the 2008 state ballot countering a “right-to-work” initiative that would make it harder for unions to organize, businesses associations that have not been involved in the right-to-work push say they are concerned with how labor’s proposals will affect small-business owners.Last week Colorado Confidential first reported that the state’s United Food and Commercial Workers labor union submitted five ballot proposals covering a wide variety of workplace issues, including safety, health insurance and a standard living wage for Colorado workers.

Two in particular have irked business groups.

One proposal would require all employers to supply an annual wage or salary increase to account for an increase in the cost of living, as measured by the state’s Consumer Price Index. Another would require companies with more than 20 employees to provide medical health care coverage.

“We’re very concerned that they may have an impact on our ability to attract businesses, particularly as we face uncertain economic times,” says Kate Horle of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, an organization that represents more than 3,000 businesses in the metro area. The chamber has not taken an official position on the right-to-work measure, which would bar unions from collecting dues or fees as a condition of employment at workplaces that have been unionized.

Last year the chamber also expressed skepticism regarding right-to-work supporters’ claims that Colorado had lost business opportunities by not being a right-to-work state.

Now Horle says the chamber is uneasy with the most recent UFCW ballot proposals regarding a living wage and health care.

“They would be both tremendously expensive,” Horle says, noting that the chamber is composed predominantly of small businesses that could not afford the wage increases or health care costs.

Tony Gagliardi, a spokesman for the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, an organization that represents an estimated 7,500 members throughout the state, has said that his group would adamantly oppose mandated health care coverage for businesses with more than 20 employees. In a recent poll of federation members, approximately 90 percent opposed required health insurance, according to Gagliardi.

The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the state’s chamber of commerce, which has endorsed the right-to-work proposal, did not return a request for comment.

So far supporters of the right-to-work measure have not submitted the more than 76,000 petition signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office that are required for authorization to put the proposal on the 2008 state ballot. The UFCW proposals have not yet been approved into petitions by state officials.

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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