The Union memo that wouldn’t die

Colorado’s United Food and Commercial Workers local has no doubt learned an important lesson about the realities of campaign season, where even simple newsletters to union members can be used for political purposes.

The hubbub started when Denver Post business columnist Al Lewis penned an article last week expounding on a newsletter that was sent to hundreds of UFCW members from local president Ernest Duran earlier this month about a “right-to-work” state ballot measure that seeks to restrict the way unions organize in Colorado.

The proposal, which will appear on the ballot as Amendment 47, would prevent unions from requiring dues or agency fees from nonmember employees who also enjoy union-negotiated workplace benefits, such as paid leave or health care. Federal law already prohibits "closed shops" or compulsory union membership in the workplace.

In the memo, Duran stated that he expected Amendment 47 to be on the ballot and that the measure, if passed, would eventually hamper future negotiations with businesses because the union would be bargaining with only an estimated 50 percent of workers as dues-paying members, making it difficult to organize new workplaces.

The newsletter was originally meant to solicit members to help collect petition signatures to put the union’s own ballot proposals — called the “Middle Class Bill of Rights” — up for a vote, but Duran has gotten more than he bargained for.

Since the Lewis column, the Denver Post has referred to the newsletter twice in news reports. Kelley Harp spokesman for the pro-Amendment 47 group, A Better Colorado, used the memo to deflect recent charges of fraud from opponents. Harp said the allegations were “nothing more than a smokescreen and a sign of desperation” because Duran had already predicted that the “right-to-work” amendment would be on the ballot.

When a communique written for an organization’s supporters provides fodder for the opposing side, it must be campaign season.

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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