Colorado Springs Republican Kent Lambert waylaid state AFL-CIO Director Phil Hayes at a House committee hearing Tuesday, asking out of the blue whether Hayes supported “the secret ballot.”
Clearly in reference to the debate over the controversial Employee Free Choice Act, Lambert’s question stunned members of the committee, who were there to discuss Speaker Terrance Carroll’s bill to limit fraud in the ballot-initiative petitioning process. Hayes was testifying in favor of Carroll’s legislation.
“I don’t think you have to answer that, Mr. Hayes,” said the committee’s chairwoman, Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, who pushed her microphone out of the way and looked down the table at Lambert.
The packed hearing room was suddenly silent, the sparks of temper a drastic change in tone from the notably affable proceedings that preceded it.
“[The question] speaks to the credibility of this witness. I think it speaks to his credibility,” Lambert said defending himself, clearly upset.
“Are there any other questions for Mr. Hayes?” Todd asked.
Hayes had been testifying that the AFL-CIO had “self-identified” many of the problems in the initiative petitioning process that Speaker Carroll’s bill aims to address.
“We feel we can meet the standards outlined in the bill and that other groups can as well.”
Hayes took particular issue with the practice in Colorado of hiring third-party petition circulators. In one instance of the practice played on a video at the start of the hearing, a man working to collect signatures in support of Proposition 49 subcontracted the work to a 14-year-old. He paid her 75 cents per signature and told her to say she was 18 if anyone asked, the legal age in Colorado to collect petition signatures.
Hayes said that the practice was unethical on many levels, including from organized labor’s perspective.
“She’s a minor and he’s giving her this cut-rate wage,” a fraction of what the man who hired the girl would receive for her work, Hayes said.
After the hearing, Hayes said he would have liked to answer Lambert’s question.
“I wanted to but we were instructed only to speak to the bill. I dropped off a card with [Lambert] later and told him I would talk to him about [the AFL-CIO position on the secret ballot] anytime.”
The surprise question didn’t rattle him, he said.
“I’m a labor guy. I get beat up all the time.”