Collective Bargaining Rights Are a Basic Litmus Test

Photo: Michael CIaglo (Getty)

With the beating that public sector unions have taken in both the courts and the states over the past decade, it’s genuinely surprising (and exciting) to see a state actually try to expand workers’ rights rather than restrict them. That’s what’s happening in Colorado. It’s just too bad the state’s Democratic governor won’t fully commit.

Buoyed by a Democratic takeover of the state Senate in November, which handed the party unified control over Colorado’s government, Democrats in the legislature are pushing a bill to enshrine the right of state workers to collectively bargain. Per Colorado Public Radio:

If it passes, about 26,500 workers would gain collective-bargaining rights, according to a nonpartisan legislative analysis. That number accounts for the vast majority of the state’s “certified workforce,” which includes employees in executive branch offices and departments. Other state employees — such as legislative aides, judicial workers and university faculty — would not be covered.

Many limits on public-sector unions remain under the bill, though. No worker would be forced to join partnerships or pay dues. Strikes would also not be allowed under any circumstance.

Per a recent paper by the left-leaning Economic Analysis and Research Network on the benefits of collective bargaining in Colorado, the state is one of just 16 that doesn’t “allow for some form of collective bargaining for all state employees,” though “exemptions exist for certain categories of workers.”

Republicans are, of course, opposed to the plan. But while Glasgow told CPR that she expects the bill to pass through the legislature, the statement on the measure from Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat who was inaugurated in January, is waffle-city:

A spokesperson for Polis provided this statement on the bill:

“Our staff and the executive agencies have reviewed the legislation and have some concerns about the ramifications for both the budget process and how it interacts with the classified system. We are actively working with stakeholders and sponsors on the specifics of the bill. We appreciate everything our state employees do for Colorado.”

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Jared. My friend; my guy. Don’t do this.

You cannot claim to be an advocate for workers or their labor and then, when your state has a rare opportunity to expand their rights, shit the bed over some vague concerns about what it might do to the budget. The aforementioned white paper found that turnover among “classified” state employees in Colorado is so bad that one in five job openings are now vacant, and it cost the state $48 million to fill over 4,200 positions last year. And as EARN pointed out in its research, there are pretty extensive pay gaps between white state employees and, well, everyone else:

Screenshot: Economic Analysis and Research Network
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There are a multitude of things that should be litmus tests for the Democratic Party—healthcare as a human right, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, anti-imperialism, you get the idea—but this issue is one that already is. If someone like Conor Lamb can unequivocally support unions and workers, the Democratic governor of a state which is seemingly becoming more liberal every day can do it too. Here’s hoping that Polis understands this sooner rather than later.

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