Senate Bill 180: Another Big Labor Veto Dilemma for Vulnerable Bill Ritter

Two years ago Governor Bill Ritter came right out of the gate and ran smack into a tough veto choice that caused friction with his Big Labor supporters. Ritter made up for the nixing of House Bill 1072 later in 2007 with an executive order giving union organizers a gold-plated invitation into Colorado state government.

Now, to some extent, history is replaying itself. As the Denver Post‘s John Ingold reports, the choice Bill Ritter is confronted with now is whether to sign or veto the bad policy that is Senate Bill 180.

The bogus argument used for SB 180 — which narrowly passed the Democrat-controlled legislature — is that firefighters need greater union bargaining rights to ensure they get needed safety equipment.

I have read four of Colorado’s existing local firefighter bargaining agreements (Aurora, Englewood, Greeley, and Pueblo), and found evidence for these claims to be wanting:

  • Two of them recognize an official Safety Committee
  • Pueblo explicitly grants as the “determination of the safety, health and property protection measures of the Fire Department” as one of the “rights of management”
  • Greeley recognizes that management has “the right to establish, modify, or change work schedules, staffing of equipment, amount of equipment in the main or reserve fleet, and number of personnel to carry out its mission”
  • None of the union-negotiated agreements gives any direct indication of providing for improvements in safety equipment

And I have seen ZERO evidence that fire departments governed by bargaining agreements have more adequate safety equipment or better safety records. Commenters are welcome to share links to such evidence, however, if it exists.

What is it the union wants to negotiate about then? Higher wages and benefits. The problem is SB 180 takes the power out of the hands of the everyday people who are directly served by their local firefighting heroes.

With HB 1072, Ritter’s political nemesis was the business community. He ultimately decided not to alienate their support on that particular labor issue, opting for the state bargaining executive order instead. With SB 180 the political nemesis is the Colorado Municipal League, which represents local officials who are elected by (and accountable to) the people of their communities.

The League seeks to uphold the power of local communities to decide government worker bargaining — like Fort Collins has overwhelmingly rejected three times in recent years — rather than create a potentially costly state mandate.

Ingold’s article documents a statement that suggests Colorado’s governor, recognizing opposition from the Municipal League, might pursue the wise course:

“I’ve said all along to the proponents of that bill that what they needed to have on board was local officials, county and municipal officials because it’s important that those people who will bear the burden of this, that they understand what that means for them.,” Ritter said earlier this week.

But Big Labor is counting on Ritter’s support in signing SB 180. What their course of action will be if he disses them again isn’t clear. Will they find some other issue (such as the executive order) for him to push to help curry their favor?

What will Bill Ritter do? From a policy perspective the answer is easy; perhaps not so much so on the political side. The governor’s approval ratings have sunk of late — making him vulnerable in his 2010 re-election bid — and his only veto so far this year already told some local mountain communities to “drop dead”.

Ritter would be wise not to tell more local communities to “drop dead” — in the case of SB 180 (like HB 1072), the veto would be his friend.


  1. Brad says

    I work for a fire dept. whos union is not recognized. I can tell you we run two firefighters on a engine. Our admin staff would rather bump the crew down to two instead of calling somebody in for overtime. this is a huge safety concern which could be addressed by our union if it were recognized. its unsafe and not practical for the citizens we protect.

  2. Unknown says

    I too work for a FD with an unrecognized union. Our union simply is trying to increase our pay and benefits, which in the long run is bad for business. This, in turn will lead to high labor cost and not enough money for needed equipment and tools. Thus reducing our safety on the job. The members of the union simply don’t understand this, and are uninformed. Some tout themselves as Constitutionalist, Libertarians and Conservatives yet they are apart of the unrecognized FD union. I also work for a FD that staffs its front line engines with 2 people in certain overtime situations. This seems risky, and it may, but a recognized union contract will not bring about any change. Our surrounding departments are recognized union FF’s and they have a similar staffing situation.

  3. says

    Thanks, Unknown, for the important contribution to the debate. If I may ask, which fire department do you work for?

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