Bill to end collective bargaining dies in senate committee

A bill to end collective bargaining by state employees was killed yesterday in committee, surprising no one. Bill sponsor, Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said he would likely take up the issue again as Colorado “head[s] toward a fiscal apocalypse” and noted that House Republicans had similar legislation in the works.

“As our state and federal government head toward a fiscal apocalypse, the influence that would curb reforms, that would limit necessary efficiency is that growing advocacy for public employees above other considerations,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s bill would have closed the books on a long-time feud between former Gov. Bill Ritter and Republicans over Ritter’s decision to enact an executive order that enabled state employees to form collective bargaining agreements. The order stated the partnerships did not have the ability to strike or use binding arbitration. Mitchell’s bill would have made such relationships illegal in the state.

There were several problems with Gov. Ritter’s executive order,” Mitchell said. “It invited state employees to organize, to create units, to apply to the state for recognition, and then have the state director of labor certify and recognize a bargaining representative and in effect open the door of the state to organized labor.”

Mitchell said the executive order was given to fix a problem that didn’t exist. He said it is only because Colorado has been within an “economic catastrophe” that it has not yet seen a ballooning state government as a result of organized labor being introduced into the public employee sector.

“In that environment we are not fighting very hard over salary increases, we are trying to minimize cuts and pain across the state budget including in the ranks of public employees, but those conditions won’t last forever,” Mitchell said. He said that state employees’ unions will likely use their ability to collectively bargain to increase their benefits and wages.

Diane Kruze, a member of Colorado Workers for Innovation and New Solutions (WINS) and a social work manager at the Colorado Mental health Institute in Fort Logan, said that Colorado WINS and the executive order has allowed state employees to generate considerable improvements and efficiencies in programs for both workers and clients of governmental programs.

“I almost think that you should be thanking Colorado WINS, because what we have done is put that communication tool in place. I have worked for the State for 20 years and I have not seen this much direct communication from line staff to management ever before,” Kruze said.

While agreeing that Ritter’s executive order had led to some positive improvements in the way state employees communicated with management, Mitchell argued that the flow of information would not be impeded by now cutting off the impetus for that communication.

“I think it sounds like there has been some useful changes that were spurred by some of the processes involved in this bill, but collective bargaining and recognition of a collective bargaining units aren’t necessary for those changes,” Mitchell said. “It sounds like enlightened management has been lacking for a long, long time and as part of this process we are now having useful discussions.

“It is my firm conviction that the effect of this bill would not bar any additional communication that happens. It addresses only whether there needs to be a collective bargaining unit that negotiates.”

Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, agreed with Mitchell, “It sounds like from your twenty years there you have created a new and efficient and effective way to communicate from your group of shared concerns and issues and it sounds like you are solving problems because of that… but this bill doesn’t prevent that.”

He said that the new working environment generated by Colorado WINS would not be impeded by the bill.

In the end Democrats voted to kill the bill in committee, but Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, said ultimately Gov. John Hickenlooper would decide on the fate of a unionized employee work force.

“It is my belief that this is really in the governor’s court regardless of what we do.”

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