Bad Legislation Parade’s SB 180 Would Harm Taxpayers, Employee Rights

Today brings a chance to review another member of the bad legislation parade down at the Colorado State Capitol. Senate Bill 180 (PDF) would override the local will of voters and impose collective bargaining on all local police and fire departments. After making it through the Democrat-controlled State, Military, and Veteran Affairs Committee, the bill is on the slate to be heard by the full senate any day now.

From the Denver Daily News:

Concerns are being raised that collective bargaining leads to overtaxing government budgets through increased payroll costs, which ends up hitting taxpayers hard.

The last time the issue raised so many conservative eyebrows was in 2007 when Gov. Bill Ritter issued an executive order authorizing state employees to join unions and bargain collectively.

[Bill sponsor state senator Lois] Tochtrop [D-Thornton], however, said her legislation would be about negotiating for safety equipment and tools – not for higher salaries. [link & emphasis added]

“Not for higher salaries”. Oh, really?

If the legislation is supposed to exclude negotiations for higher salaries (and benefits), then Senator Tochtrop should complain that the bill drafter has allowed SB 180 to define “collective bargaining” as

THE PERFORMANCE OF THE MUTUAL OBLIGATION OF A PUBLIC EMPLOYER, THROUGH ITS DESIGNATED REPRESENTATIVES, AND AN EXCLUSIVE REPRESENTATIVE TO MEET AT REASONABLE TIMES AND PLACES AND NEGOTIATE IN GOOD FAITH WITH RESPECT TO COMPENSATION, HOURS, AND TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT, TO MEET AND NEGOTIATE IN GOOD FAITH ANY QUESTION ARISING UNDER A COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT, AND TO EXECUTE A WRITTEN CONTRACT INCORPORATING ANY AGREEMENTS REACHED. [emphasis added]

Which is followed by this relevant passage (among others):

THE EMPLOYEE ORGANIZATION RECOGNIZED OR ELECTED FOR THE PURPOSE OF COLLECTIVE BARGAINING SHALL BE THE EXCLUSIVE REPRESENTATIVE OF ALL THE FIREFIGHTERS OR LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS IN THE BARGAINING UNIT FOR THE PURPOSE OF COLLECTIVE BARGAINING.

It’s hard to deny that the bargaining in SB 180 covers compensation. And why would you? Unless you are trying to conceal the clear truth that this legislation carries a costly taxpayer premium for public services already enjoyed.

Senator Tochtrop and the Democrats are trying to make this issue about equipment for law enforcement and fire fighters. But this presumes that most Colorado communities aren’t already interested in arming and equipping their public servants with what they need to keep everyone safe. And it doesn’t answer the question why the paid negotiating services of union officials might be needed to procure legitimate items that the taxpaying public already is bound to support.

And then there’s the surprise that may welcome the police officers or fire fighters who aren’t happy with their union representation or don’t want their money funding political activities. Sorry, no protection for you. Also from SB 180:

A COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT MAY CONTAIN PROVISIONS REQUIRING ALL MEMBERS OF THE BARGAINING UNIT, AS A CONDITION OF EMPLOYMENT, TO PAY NECESSARY FEES AND EXPENSES GERMANE TO COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AND ENFORCEMENT OF A COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT THAT ARE INCURRED BY THE EXCLUSIVE REPRESENTATIVE.

The public accountability in this bill – although it could be weaker – is weak enough. The threat of coercion for dissenting public safety employees is very real. Police and fire fighters in Pueblo, for example, are obligated to pay an automatic union fee worth nearly or all the full amount of union dues.

If that’s the kind of policy you want for our men and women in uniform all over the state – if you care more about enhancing union officials’ political power than about providing public safety services in an efficient and effective manner – well, then you have found a gem in the bad legislation parade worthy of your support: Senate Bill 180.

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