Labor, business ballot fight heating up

Vintage union pamphlet depicting worker breaking his shackles. (Photo/Tobias Higbie)
Vintage union pamphlet depicting worker breaking his shackles. (Photo/Tobias Higbie)
Unions and business groups in Colorado are preparing for what now seems to be an inevitable ballot war between the two political titans, with one side opposing a measure that would restrict the way unions organize and the other side determined to fight two labor-backed amendments regulating employer conduct.

Two union-supported initiative proposals — Amendment 53 and Amendment 55 — were certified for the state ballot during the hoopla of the Democratic National Convention, adding on to what is now the longest ballot in the nation.

Amendment 53 is considered the “corporate fraud” initiative, and would make corporate executives criminally liable for acts of fraud committed by their businesses, while Amendment 55 would ask voters if an employer should be required to state a “just cause” for firing an employee.

A campaign called Protect Colorado’s Future, which has been primarily funded by labor unions, worked to put the measures on the ballot.

The two amendments were submitted in response to Amendment 47, a “right-to-work” proposal that will also be on the ballot. If passed into law, Amendment 47 would restrict the way labor groups organize and negotiate in the state, by banning collective bargaining agreements between unions and businesses that require minimal agency fees from nonmember employees who receive union-negotiated benefits in the workplace.

Labor supporters have characterized Amendment 47 as being an attempt by stealth business interests to break up unions in Colorado, because the pro-47’s campaign coffers have been funded primarily through anonymous contributions.

That ground war is being fought between the lines of Internal Revenue Service loopholes governing certain political committees, better known by their tax law subsection number as 527s, and tax-exempt 501c4 charitable organizations that have less stringent rules on accountability and transparency.

Because of new 527 regulations, nonprofit groups are becoming a more attractive option for political donors who don’t want their names to see the limelight on public disclosure forms, according to Sheila Krumholz, an executive director with the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.

“It’s an enormous problem,” Krumholz told the Colorado Independent in June. “It’s the last great refuge for donors who want to give unlimited contributions and maintain their anonymity while doing so.”

At the same time, groups campaigning against Amendments 53 and 55 claim that the proposals would dissuade businesses from investing in the state and be disastrous for the economy.

The possibility of a sharply divided political clash between labor and business groups moved high-profile public officials like Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter to try to encourage the backers of the three measures to surrender their plans to put the proposals up for a vote.

In an Aug. 22 story in the Denver Business Journal, Kate Horle, a spokeswoman for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes both sides will back off.

“We really want this to go away,” Horle said. “It is so potentially devastating.”

On Monday, the campaign for Amendment 47, called A Better Colorado, sent out a press statement announcing clearly that sponsors of the measure had no intention of pulling their proposal off the ballot.

Defend Our Economy, a pro-business campaign created specifically to oppose Amendments 53 and 55, announced last week it would also be supporting Amendment 47.

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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