Ritter’s office rejects McInnis call to ‘de-unionize’ state workers

DENVER – Speaking at a conservative confab over the weekend, gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis renewed his calls to end a 2007 executive order signed by Gov. Bill Ritter allowing state workers to form employee partnerships.

Scott McInnis at the Conservative Western Conference on Saturday. Photo by Joseph Boven
While a Ritter spokesman told the Colorado Independent Monday there are no exact figures on how the partnerships have impacted the state economically, he said the intangible benefits have been substantial. It was clear from the McInnis’s speech Saturday at the Conservative Western Conference Summit that the former Republican congressman disagrees.

“What we are going to do is de-unionize the state agencies [Ritter] unionized,” McInnis told a room of about 600 conservatives who reacted with enthusiastic applause.

McInnis’s reference was to employee partnerships created by an executive order that allows state employees to be represented by an agency for bartering purposes. However, state workers do not have the right to strike, nor are labor negotiations subject to binding arbitration that’s standard in traditional union models.

Robert Gibson, executive director of Colorado Workers for Innovation and New Solutions (Colorado WINS), which according to its literature considers itself a union, said he’s baffled by McInnis’s statements.

“It’s hard to believe that Congressman McInnis opposes an effective business partnership that seeks to increase efficiency and deliver quality services – such as safe roads and bridges – to Coloradans,” Gibson said.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer told the Colorado Independent the employee partnership grew out of work done in 2007 and 2008 to identify inefficiencies.

“In 2007 and 2008, we worked with employees – both via partnerships and not – to identify about $200 million in inefficiencies, waste, fraud and abuse as part of Gov. Ritter’s GEM Review (Government Efficiency and Management),” Dreyer said.

“We had thousands and thousands of suggestions from employees, because we engaged them and invited them to be part of improving government. The partnerships were born of the same spirit of collaboration – working together to create a better government for the people and businesses of Colorado.”

Dreyer said those were the good times. He went on to explain that as the economy collapsed the administration once again addressed the employee partnerships, and Colorado WINS in figuring out ways to cut spending, close shortfalls and keep the budget balanced.

“In cooperation with the employee partnership groups and Colorado WINS, our strategy included: no pay raises for employees in 09-10 and 10-11, eliminating hundreds of positions and freezing hundreds more unfilled slots. Eight furlough days in 09-10. Cutting employee take-home pay by 2.5 percent in 10-11.”

Colorado WINS agreed that employees had worked with the state during an economic downturn to keep the Colorado budget balanced. In a release put out by WINS, officials cite restoring flex-time scheduling and identified efficiencies as “having saved the Department of Labor and Employment thousands of dollars in overhead expenses.”

However, it is also clear the employee partnerships are at least equally as geared toward turning efficiencies into better conditions for employees and the public. Employee partnerships are credited with helping to negotiate better health-care premiums for state employees and extending the reach of their provider range outside of the Front Range.

While other states continue to slice employee health benefits, WINS states that it has worked hard to stop cuts to employee health-care coverage that might otherwise have been made.

In a newsletter to members, WINS also noted job cuts they helped to stop through their lobby arm in the legislature and a number of other actions that stopped what would have been significant cuts in the labor force. While those cuts would have saved Colorado money, WINS lobbyists as well as Democrats argued that state employees had already felt the brunt of Colorado’s economic woes and that services to an increasing group of Coloradans would be affected if many of the cuts were implemented.

It’s unclear how much money would have been cut from employees if all legislation and administrative cuts opposed by WINS and employee partnerships had gone through. Likewise, the total savings found due to employee partnerships is difficult to pin down as there has yet to be any analysis done.

“The partnerships are all about giving employees a seat at the table and a voice in improving how state government serves the public. The partnerships have been very helpful as we navigate through a recession that is dragging on longer and deeper than anyone anticipated,” Dreyer said.

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