Colorado Governor Support Bargaining Rights for Public Employees
Colorado is one of 14 states that currently bans public employees from bargaining
A major victory for public employees may be on the horizon for workers in Colorado.
On Friday Governor Jared Polis announced that he would support a bill to give the state’s 28,000 public employees the right to collectively bargain. Colorado is one of 14 states that currently forbids public employees from negotiating a CBA.
Polis’ support for the bill is huge since he killed a similar bill at the end of the 2019 session. That year, the bill was introduced late in the session and Polis announced he wouldn’t sign it because he had concerns about some of the details in the bill and it was too late in the session to make changes. He said at the time that he didn’t have a problem with the concept of the bill, just some of the details in it.
For the last few months, the Governor’s office and legislative leaders have been hashing out their differences on the bill. Insiders believe that the main sticking point was over allowing public employees to strike. The original bill would have allowed them to strike, but the new bill will not. The new bill also does not repeal the state’s right to work law or require public employees to join the union or pay dues, which would be in violation of the Janus decision.
The bill would allow unions to bargain for working conditions, pay, and benefits. It would also guarantee negotiations with state public employee unions who would be represented under a single statewide unit. The workers are currently represented by Colorado WINS, which is affiliated with both SEIU and the AFT, which was formed in 2007 when then-Governor Bill Ritter signed an executive order allowing workers the ability to form “employee partnerships.” These groups functioned as a union but could not negotiate contracts or take formal action against the state, like going on strike.
"By formalizing these (employee) partnerships, the information will flow better from workers to management. The voices of people doing work will be heard, and we can improve customer service and efficiency," Polis said at an event unveiling the bill in the halls of the Capitol. "You know, this is an enormous step we're announcing today."
While the executive order allowed the formation of Colorado WINS, it could be overturned at any time. To alleviate that fear, this new bill would make that executive order the permanent law.
“We are on the verge,” said Skip Miller, president of Colorado WINS, said at a press conference Friday at the Capitol. “We are so close to being able to finally negotiate with our employer the way other employers do across this country.”
Beyond giving workers a voice on the job, legislators are hoping that allowing public employees the right to bargain will help them better provide services to the taxpayers. According to the Denver Post, benefits and salaries are about 9.2% lower than the private sector in Colorado and that gap is expected to increase to 11.5% in 2020-2021. This has led to 1 in 5 state jobs being left unfilled. This is a 73% increase in the vacancy rate over the last decade.
“Colorado has a booming economy, and this does need to be reflected in the way we treat our employees,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, a sponsor of the bill.
The final bill is expected to be introduced in the coming days where it is expected to pass both chambers of the legislature before heading to Polis’ desk.