Colorado governor: Lockout law didn’t help unemployed | VailDaily.com

Colorado governor: Lockout law didn’t help unemployed

STEVEN K. PAULSON
Associated Press Writer

DENVER, Colorado ” Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter says he vetoed a bill that would have given unemployment benefits to employees locked out during labor disputes to make sure benefits are available to workers who have lost their jobs.

Ritter said Wednesday that the recession is putting a strain on the unemployment fund, and he says he wants to focus on putting people back to work.

“We said in the State of the State address that this has to be about jobs, it has to be about the economy and it has to be about how we protect people who are unemployed,” Ritter said. “This is a different question for me, and we answered it with a veto.”

Ritter says workers currently embroiled in contract negotiations between grocery store chains after their contract expired May 9 are not out of work and shouldn’t be entitled to unemployment benefits.

“I very much have great sympathies for the workers and for the work that they do and the situations that they face, but at the same time felt that it was inappropriate that we would allow legislation at the end of the day to impact negotiations as they are ongoing,” Ritter said.

The King Soopers, City Market, Safeway and Albertsons chains are negotiating with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7. Safeway workers voted to authorize a strike but agreed to extend their contract on a day-to-day basis until May 30 while negotiations continue.

Workers locked out in a contract dispute aren’t automatically eligible for unemployment benefits because of a law passed in response to a clash between the United Food and Commercial Workers and grocery stores in 1996.

Union spokeswoman Laura Chapin issued a statement saying Ritter “sided with corporate interests over working families and an economic recovery.” The union lobbied for the lockout bill.

Chapin also noted that the grocery workers’ extended contract is set to expire before July 1, when the bill would have taken effect.

Colorado paid more than $5 million in unemployment benefits to Safeway workers who were locked out in response to a King Soopers strike in 1996.

The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the move. But in 1999, at the urging of retailers, state lawmakers agreed to change the law, making it difficult for locked out workers to collect unemployment benefits.