Labor livid over Ritter veto of bill on collective bargaining for firefighters

(Photo/johngiovanni1, Flickr)
(Photo/johngiovanni1, Flickr)
Labor leaders came out swinging after Gov. Bill Ritter on Thursday vetoed a bill passed by fellow Democrats that would have allowed firefighters to bargain collectively in Colorado communities where voters have rejected the possibility. It’s the second time in two weeks Ritter has crossed unions by vetoing a bill backed by Democrats.

“We’re going to have to take a hard look at where we stand with Gov. Ritter,” executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO Mike Cerbo, a former Democratic state representative from Denver, told the Denver Post.

Tensions between labor and Ritter have mounted in recent weeks after the governor vetoed a bill that would have restored unemployment benefits to workers locked out during a labor dispute. On Tuesday, angry grocery workers shouted down Ritter at another bill-signing ceremony, calling him a “liar” and asking, “Sir, why did you lie?”

Some labor activists are looking for a candidate to challenge Ritter in a primary next year, the Denver Business Journal reports. A group called Labor Initiatives Against Ritter, or LIAR, has formed to raise money opposing the governor, The Denver Post reported last week.

“When he campaigned, he made it clear he was behind the labor movement. We’re tired of seeing bill after bill falling to his pen. He’s not the man we thought we were electing,” Steve Vairma, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 455, told Channel 7 after Ritter vetoed the firefighter bill Thursday.

Ritter said he vetoed Senate Bill 180 because firefighters in a handful of cities already have the right to collective bargaining but the bill would thwart local voters who have opted against it. Ritter also said he would order members of his administration to work with local governments and firefighters to develop a statewide fire safety program.

“Despite making campaign promises to support fire fighters, Governor Bill Ritter has turned his back on us,” said the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters union in a statement. “His promises to the men & women who risk their lives for others have turned out to be no more than empty words designed to deceive us and give fire fighters the illusion that they were voting for a man that truly cared those that perform this dangerous profession.”

“As the son of a union member, and a union member myself in earlier years,” Ritter said in his veto message, “I have long believed that collective bargaining can create a positive working relationship for public sector employees and local governments. But there are other issues I had to consider when deliberating on this bill, issues that led me to the difficult conclusion that a veto of this bill was in the best interests of the people of Colorado.”

“I am very disappointed,” said Senate Bill 180 sponsor state Rep. Ed Casso, an Adams County Democrat, in a statement. Casso called firefighters “our heroes” and slammed the governor’s objections to the bill.

“Senate Bill 180 had significant guardrails built into the framework of the legislation that would have guaranteed fair and stable negotiations,” Casso said. “SB 180 had an explicit no-strike clause, there was no binding arbitration, and all impasses would require a vote of the people paid for by the entity that refused concession.” He vowed to continue working to “expand opportunity for all Coloradans including our critical emergency services personnel.”

Ritter was joined at the Thursday news conference by mayors and a fire department chief who applauded the veto.

“The state should not be telling local voters or local elected representatives what to do when it comes to personnel matters like this,” Littleton Mayor Doug Clark said.

“Governor Ritter has let us down tremendously today,” said Littleton firefighter Mark Rogers in a statement after the veto. “We work in inherently dangerous jobs and today the Governor failed to let us have a seat at the table to make our jobs less dangerous.” Rogers’ fire department has a union but doesn’t have collective bargaining rights.

Firefighters and other union members planned a rally at 11:30 a.m. at the state AFL-CIO headquarters, 140 Sheridan Blvd., in Denver.