Colorado Moves To Public-Sector Collective Bargaining

Published February 1, 2008

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) has signed an executive order recognizing labor unions and permitting them to negotiate with the state. The order allows the state and public employee unions to negotiate for the first time.

The governor insists the agreements will be non-binding to the state, but the plan nevertheless has raised serious concern from citizens, politicians, and some of the largest newspapers in the state.

Unions Were Ready

The move to establish “partnership agreements” with the state’s public employee unions took almost everyone but the unions by surprise after the governor’s November signing. Within four days, the state’s largest public-sector unions–the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and American Federation of Teachers (AFT)–had signed a power-sharing agreement creating Colorado Workers for Innovation and New Solutions (WINS). Colorado WINS calls for the unions to cooperate with each other.

It’s difficult to imagine the intensely competitive unions were able to negotiate and formalize such an agreement in so short a time without the groundwork having been laid much earlier.

Unions have targeted Colorado since Ritter’s predecessor, former governor Bill Owens (R), rescinded the state’s authority to deduct union dues from state employee paychecks, making it more difficult for unions to recruit members and collect dues. Hoping to regain that ground and then some, unions had shepherded a bill through the legislature that eliminated the current two-step election process to implement union security clauses. Ritter vetoed the bill.

Veto Enraged Unions

The unions reacted vehemently, jeopardizing the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver with threats to strike and picket the convention and prompting national Democratic and AFL-CIO leaders to intervene. Those negotiations set the stage for the November executive order.

While the order prohibits strikes and stipulates any resulting agreements are “non-binding,” Colorado WINS has one primary purpose, according to the Education Intelligence Agency: To push a collective bargaining law for Colorado public employees through the legislature and make Colorado WINS their exclusive representative.

The agreement stays in effect until December 30, 2012, but the Education Intelligence Agency notes, “if there were any remaining doubt as to the overriding purpose of the organization and the transitory role of Gov. Ritter’s partnership agreements, it is erased by the provision that allows the member unions to terminate the merger and dissolve Colorado WINS.”

The agreement reads, “in the event that no state employee collective bargaining legislation is in effect by July 1, 2009,” Colorado WINS will be terminated.

Public Bypassed

The Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado noted in a statement, “Something is missing from Gov. Bill Ritter’s executive order. … The order emphasizes ‘partnerships’ between state officials and employees, but it does not discuss any ‘partnerships’ with the taxpaying public.”

The statement observed, “No one working to improve customer service should have any reason to fear an open negotiation process. After all, Coloradans deserve to see everything that transpires in collective bargaining over their tax money.”

Ryan Bedford ([email protected]) is a labor analyst with the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington.

For more information …

Colorado WINS:

“Ritter can restore trust with taxpayers by making ‘partnerships’ transparent,” Independence Institute:

“Owens assails Ritter’s order on unions,” Rocky Mountain News:,1299,DRMN_15_5741044,00.html

“Gov. Ritter Issues Employee Partnership Executive Order,” Office of the Governor, State of Colorado:

Education Intelligence Agency: