Collective bargaining bill faces battle royale in House | Legislature

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While the Senate managed to reach an agreement, more or less, on the bill granting collective bargaining rights to most of the state’s 38,000 county workers, Republicans in the State House hope to put the ice bill.

As amended, Senate Bill 230 largely made it optional for county commissioners to enter into collective agreements with their employees. The counties won major concessions on the Senate bill, prompted by news that Republicans planned to push hundreds of amendments in a bid to drag out the process.

Some 450 amendments have now been drafted for the bill, sources said, including 25 that had already been introduced or passed, and 250 that Senate Republicans dropped after reaching a deal with Senate Democrats. The debate is expected to start on Friday afternoon and could continue late into the night and potentially until the last weekend of the session.

The bill, which has been in the works for at least two years, began as a plan to allow all public sector employees to engage in collective bargaining. That would have included those working for municipalities, counties, special districts, K-12 schools, and public colleges and universities. As the bill neared its introduction this year and opposition grew, including from some organized labor circles, the bill was first narrowed to just counties and higher education, then to its final version, which only applies to counties.

Five counties — Adams, Summit, Pueblo, Pitkin and Las Animas — have collective bargaining agreements with their employees, though the agreement in Summit County only covers its transit workers. The bill is opposed by Colorado Counties, Inc., which represents 62 of the state’s 64 counties, and supported by Counties and Commissioners Acting Together (CCAT), a coalition of mostly Democratic county commissioners who have negotiated the bill.

Concessions in the Senate version include rejecting a minimum size on bargaining units; in the bill as presented, a unit would require a minimum of 50 employees. This was not bad for the smaller counties, but the representatives of the larger counties wanted to avoid the cost of negotiating agreements with multiple units. The amendment would allow the size of the unit to be agreed upon by both counties and workers. Disputes over this issue would send the matter to the state Department of Labor and Employment for resolution.

Another victory for counties that fought the bill concerns whether counties should agree to a collective bargaining agreement. An amendment by Senate Speaker Steve Fenberg of Boulder co-sponsored expanded a county’s rights when discussing a collective bargaining agreement with workers. He told the Senate during the April 29 debate that the amendment “puts more safeguards” on what can and cannot be negotiated in the section of the bill that sets out the basic rights and responsibilities of commissioners of county. These rights, under the law, cannot be infringed by a collective agreement.

Contracts could only be signed by county commissioners and not by county administrators or managers under another change.

Implementation of the bill has also been delayed until July 1, 2023, and it now exempts the state’s two self-governing counties.

Among the biggest remaining problems for counties opposed to the bill is one that is not addressed by the legislation – the bill’s unfunded mandate. Any collective agreement would be negotiated by the bargaining unit, if approved by the workers, and the county. This would require counties to hire human resources specialists or attorneys with experience in labor negotiations. There could also be mediation, investigation and other related costs, and all of this amounts to what could be a substantial expense to county budgets, according to commissioners who testified on the bill in the Senate and the Room.

As an example of these costs, the 2020 bill implementing a collective bargaining agreement between the state and Colorado WINS, the state employees union, would have required 48 additional employees across a dozen agencies. of state. The bills tax note stressed that agencies should hire “specific human resources staff with labor relations expertise,” as well as administrative assistants, responsible for managing negotiations on department-specific agreements and ensuring compliance with the bill. The estimated cost for 2021-22 was over $6.6 million, and that only applied to one collective agreement. In the 2022-2023 budget, an additional $8.8 million and five additional employees are added to meet this agreement.

SB 230 does not provide funding to counties to cover these anticipated costs, although it does provide the Department of Labor and Employment with $419,000 this year and $592,000 the following year to hire more staff who would administer the collective bargaining process for the counties through rulemaking, elections and hearings.

The final issue for adversaries is local control.

CCI’s Eric Bergman told Colorado Politics that “the state is sticking its nose in and we can already do that.” He said county commissioners are hired to run their counties and don’t need state help.

The House Public, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard the bill on Thursday.

House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, who sponsors SB 230 and has championed legislation to organize public sector workers for the past two sessions, told the committee Thursday that she believed that public service workers deserved a voice at work.

“(They) deserve the right to bargain for fair and safe workplaces and quality public services,” she said.

Colorado is on track to double the number of public employees able to collectively bargain with the addition of county employees, Esgar said.

She claimed that the unions would reduce turnover and therefore save the counties millions of dollars. During the pandemic, county employees have maintained public services, but without a protected voice at work, they can be fired if they raise concerns about unsafe working conditions, she said. A seat at the table will allow them to advocate for workplace improvements, giving workers a reason to stay on the job, she added.

The bill does not require counties to spend money or change their budgets, she said, adding that counties retain full control of their budgets. Workers must first choose to organise, form a union and then negotiate the contract, but management rights are also protected, she said.

Commissioners representing CCAT, county clerks and recorders Paul Lopez of Denver and Gil Ortiz of Pueblo supported the bill during Thursday’s nearly five-hour hearing. The same was true for union representatives and county workers in some of these unions.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown, a member of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 31, spoke in favor of SB 230. He said implementing collective bargaining would not cost millions of dollars. dollars to the counties, adding, “You can’t squeeze a dollar out of 50 cents.” It’s something he said he knew through his county’s budget process.

MPs are committed to the community and don’t want to walk away from work, Brown said, adding that they just want their voices heard. He told the committee his deputies can discuss their issues and Brown can take it to county commissioners, but they don’t have the right to negotiate and they’re looking for that ability.

The ICC, which has opposed it from the start, was criticized by Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, D-Fort Collins, who pointed to an ICC fact sheet that says under SB 230 workers can quit. work during a labor dispute. This, according to the CCI fact sheet, could threaten the health and safety of the public. Boesenecker said he heard from county employees, who found the bill offensive.

“I have a hard time reconciling those statements,” Boesenecker said, referring to the idea that people who work with vulnerable populations, for example, might walk out.

Bergman said the bill creates the potential for an adversarial relationship that does not currently exist. He also said the wording of the Strikes Bill is unclear – he says an ‘only representative’ cannot call a strike but does not define the term. Esgar said earlier that term refers to the union itself and that the language comes from the state union bill.

SB 230, which the House Appropriations Committee approved Friday afternoon, now awaits full debate.

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