Ritter’s Union Illogic

In the Sunday Denver Post point-counterpoint, a piece co-authored by SEIU union boss Mitch Ackerman asserts that Colorado state government needs a new sort of vaguely-defined union “partnership.” It’s an attempt to give political cover to Democrat Gov. Bill Ritter, yes. Nevertheless, you still clearly have a solution in search of a problem:

A few state agencies account for their performance with measurable outcomes. We’d like to see more of that, possibly incorporated into an annual performance review. If this sounds like a strange idea coming from an employee group, it isn’t. All working people like the recognition and pride that comes from doing a good job.

As frontline workers and taxpayers, state employees are in a unique position to advocate on behalf of the people they serve. We can reform Colorado government for the 21st century. Let’s set aside political rhetoric and involve frontline workers in win-win solutions to improve the essential services we deliver.

Mm … why does the Governor, the CEO of state government, need a private group (SEIU) to set policy for state employees?

As Republican Senator Shawn Mitchell’s counterpoint highlighted:

If Gov. Ritter thinks he’s running a sweatshop, he should fix it. If he wants kinder, gentler work rules and better employee communications, he should direct his managers to get on it, now. There is absolutely no need to resuscitate and feed a power-hungry union, grasping for relevance and survival in the 21st century. It merely drives a big wedge between the interests of state employees and the rest of Colorado.

Something else is at work. The obvious explanation is that Gov. Ritter is rewarding big labor for major political support. Collective bargaining would force thousands of state employees to pay dues to the labor unions, whether or not they support the union. Not coincidentally, unions are among the state’s biggest financial backers of Democratic candidates and causes, as well as a major lobby at the Capitol for more government spending. Ritter knows all this.

Unfortunately, all the money for partisan campaigns and lobbying would come from forced deductions from the paychecks of the men and women the governor says he wants to help. If he means it, he should help them with his own authority, not by picking their pockets for the AFL-CIO.

There’s no logic behind the formulation of this policy proposal. Little wonder then why Ritter has employed a lot of secrecy surrounding his efforts to propose unionization. Most recently, we’ve learned that the Governor is looking to impose union bargaining on state employees with the stroke of a pen.

With the history of the SEIU “partnership” model in view, what good does it really hold in store for Colorado state employees? It’s a genuine question for Mr. Ackerman and his colleagues. The SEIU “partnership” certainly caused problems for workers in California nursing homes, falling apart after 4 1/2 years:

But under the terms of the partnership, the union was barred from waging an aggressive public campaign to address staff-to-patient ratios.

Similarly, most workers who joined SEIU through the partnership agreement ended up with “template” contracts that were negotiated before they joined the union. These deals, according to an internal analysis by UHW, “allowed for very little power on the shop floor with no right to strike and no clear path towards full collective bargaining rights.”

The overall effect was to create a growing pool of second-class union members, with the pre-negotiated deals “discouraging-and in some cases preventing-workers from independently engaging in struggle to improve their working conditions.”

Finally, the California nursing home agreement reflected a new approach to organizing members and negotiating contracts in the nursing home industry, one aimed at spreading these agreements nationwide. Under this new model the international union, particularly a small group of national officers and staff, played a decisive role in negotiating with nursing home operators. Current nursing home workers, and their elected union leaders, were kept at arm’s length during recent talks, leading to a justifiable concern about who was looking out for their interests in negotiations.

Ritter’s secret union negotations are, simply put, a bad move – a bad move for the state, for taxpayers, and for state employees.


  1. JOHN BERGER says

    As a former CO State employee I can say,unequivocally,the last group of workers to need a union are Colorado State Employees but I guess that the Union needs them!

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