Initiative Takes Aim At ‘Right-To-Work’ Amendment, Could Face Problems

A proposed ballot measure could neutralize provisions in a “right-to-work” amendment that would change rules for establishing unions in Colorado workplaces, but the initiative will need to navigate a variety legal issues according to notes from a state regulatory body.The measure, titled “Conditions of Employment,” seeks to change the definition of a “labor organization,” in a direct contrast to a proposed right-to-work amendment set for the 2008 ballot that would prohibit union shops that require nonunion members to join and pay dues or fees.

In the right-to-work proposal, “labor organizations” that would be regulated by the amendment if passed are defined as the following:

“LABOR ORGANIZATION” MEANS ANY ORGANIZATION OF ANY KIND, OR AGENCY OR EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATION COMMITTEE OR UNION, THAT EXISTS FOR THE PURPOSE, IN WHOLE OR IN PART, OF DEALING WITH EMPLOYERS CONCERNING WAGES, RATES OF PAY, HOURS OF WORK, OTHER CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT, OR OTHER FORMS OF COMPENSATION.

In the recent initiative submitted for the 2008 ballot, “labor organizations” are defined as exactly the opposite, which could make unions exempt from the provisions in the right-to-work amendment:

“LABOR ORGANIZATION” MEANS ANY ORGANIZATION OF EMPLOYEES THAT EXISTS SOLELY OR PRIMARILY FOR A PURPOSE OTHER THAN DEALING WITH EMPLOYERS CONCERNING GRIEVANCES, LABOR DISPUTES, WAGES, RATES OF PAY, EMPLOYEE BENEFITS, HOURS OF EMPLOYMENT, OR CONDITIONS OF WORK. THIS DEFINITION SHALL PREVAIL OVER ANY CONFLICTING DEFINITION OF “LABOR ORGANIZATION” IN ARTICLE XXVIII, INCLUDING ANY PROVISION ADOPTED AT THE 2008 GENERAL ELECTION, REGARDLESS OF THE NUMBER OF VOTES RECEIVED BY THIS OR ANY OTHER SUCH AMENDMENT.

According to comments by the Colorado Legislative Council, a public entity that analyzes proposals for the state ballot and examined the measure last week, the initiative could have trouble making the ballot if not revised.

One problem is the measure’s goals. According to state constitutional requirements all proposed initiatives must have a single subject, but the council noted that the initiative had many purposes, including defining a “labor organization” and giving the proposal’s definition of such an organization preference over other definitions.

In 2006, the Colorado Supreme Court invalidated a ballot initiative sponsored by an anti-immigration group called Defend Colorado Now that would have denied public services to undocumented immigrants specifically because the initiative had multiple subjects.

Issues regarding conflicting definitions of “labor organizations” that are already a part of state law and questions over which definition would be used were also raised by the council, a body that is meant to advise proponents of initiatives and to educate voters about state ballot questions.

The proposal is being sponsored by Colorado Springs resident Charles Bader, son of a union official with the Teamsters local 17 connected to the Colorado AFL-CIO. Bader is also sponsoring another initiative that would require employers with 20 or more employees to cover health care costs.

Collective bargaining rights for labor would be weakened by a right-to-work law, making it illegal for unions to negotiate with businesses for workplaces with required dues or fees.

Both of Bader’s proposals must be approved by the Legislative Council’s title board and obtain the required number of 76,000 petition signatures to be put on the ballot.

The right-to-work amendment was certified by the secretary of state’s office for the ballot in late April.

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 erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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