Colo. unions trying to block job-killing bills
Associated Press Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER – Despite legislation this year that could cost their members hundreds of jobs, union officials said they got most of what they wanted from lawmakers.
Unions said they helped save the state employee pension plan and successfully lobbied for a bill that puts limits on interest charged for payday loans. And they said they’re getting hundreds of new jobs refurbishing polluting power plants, even though it could cost union coal mining jobs.
They also blocked legislation that could have cost even more union jobs, such as the bill that would have forced companies to stop delivering phone books and another that would have forced the state to close a prison.
“It could have been a lot worse for working families,” said AFL-CIO political director Phil Hayes.
But it has also been a rough two years for groups that thought they would have an edge with Democrats in control of the House, Senate and governor’s office:
– State employees were forced to accept a 2.5 percent reduction in wages to help pay for the state pension fund bailout.
– State employees were also forced to take eight unpaid furlough days to balance the state budget.
– Lawmakers killed an amendment that would have allowed the state to deduct union dues from members of the state employee union. The provision is currently in an executive order from Gov. Bill Ritter that can be revoked at any time.
– The Colorado Education Association, which represents about 40,000 teachers statewide, was unable to block a new law that gets rid of guaranteed tenure protections and makes it easier to fire ineffective teachers. The union is now helping craft the details of the new law through a council appointed by the governor.
Colorado WINS, which represents about 7,600 state employees, has launched a lobbying effort to persuade Ritter not to veto a bill that would revise the state personnel system, going from a performance award based system to one based on annual rate increases within a pay grade.
Republicans have criticized the measure as being a potential budget-buster, while Democrats said state employees have gone without raises for years and shouldn’t be held back because of revenue shortfalls. Ritter has not said if he would sign the bill, but his spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said the governor is taking a hard look at it.
“The governor ran on a platform of fighting for working families, and we want to see him fight for working families,” said Colorado WINS executive director Bob Gibson.
Ritter angered union leaders in 2007 when he vetoed a bill that would have made it easier for them to form closed shops, even though he had promised to support it. He said business leaders should have had more of a voice in the debate before it passed and objected to the process, not the bill. Union leaders are worried he won’t be afraid to cross them again because he’s not running for re-election this year.
Deborah Fallin, spokeswoman for the CEA, said the teachers’ union doesn’t agree with Hayes’ assessment that unions got much of what they wanted this year.
“I would say this session we may have split the difference with other unions. On union core issues, I can see why some might think we did fine. However, union core issues are not our union’s first concern. Our first concern is educational issues,” Fallin said.
Democrats were sharply divided over teacher tenure after eight of them crossed over with Republicans to pass it, leaving other members of their caucus in tears. Democrats were also divided when they were forced by a Republican filibuster to kill an amendment that would have had the state deducting union dues from state employee union members.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, a Republican from Littleton, said unions won a lot of concessions this year, including a bill that guarantees the hiring of hundreds of union pipefitters because of new training requirements.
“I don’t see that big a rift. I think the unions are still a very important part of the Democratic base,” Kopp said.