DENVER — Mayors of Colorado communities of all political persuasions came together Wednesday to oppose a bill that would mandate union bargaining for firefighters across the state.
Mayor Steve Bach of Colorado Springs and Boulder Mayor Matthew Appelbaum urged the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee not to pass Senate Bill 25 on to the Senate floor for consideration.
Ultimately, the committee approved the bill in a 3-2 party line vote, and it will go before the Senate in coming weeks.
“Let me start by acknowledging that this is actually fairly difficult for me to be here,” Appelbaum said. “In fact surprisingly … the cities of Boulder and Colorado Springs are here in agreement on an issue.”
But the two mayors opposed the proposed laws for very different reasons.
Boulder has had collective bargaining with the local firefighters union for more than 30 years, while voters in Colorado Springs have twice defeated ballot measures that would have given firefighters a bargaining chip.
“I share the same perspective as Mayor Appelbaum in a little different way though,” Bach said.
“We think that state-mandated collective bargaining would override the express will of the voters in Colorado Springs. The people of Colorado Springs have spoken three times on this issue.”
Bach said voters twice defeated collective bargaining for firefighters on ballots, and most recently the movement failed to get enough signatures to get on the ballot again.
“Forcing a state mandated one-size-fits all could create an adversarial relationship with our firefighters which does not exist today,” Bach said. “I believe we enjoy a very healthy, positive relationship with our firefighters, and we too are a home rule city with all those implications. This bill removes the ability of the people in Colorado Springs to make decisions that fit our community.”
Appelbaum agreed, saying that even if Boulder was exempt from the law because it currently has collective bargaining for firefighters he would still oppose it.
“It establishes a dangerous precedent for allowing the state to infringe upon our home-rule authority,” Appelbaum said.
Testifying in support of the bill was Jeremy Kroto, president of Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters.
Kroto said the firefighters union has a good relationship with the current mayor and City Council, but without collective bargaining there’s no guarantee that their seat at the table won’t disappear with the next election.
“Without a guaranteed voice that ability to have discussions can be taken away at a moment’s notice with absolutely zero recourse,” said Kroto, who has served under several mayors, councils and fire chiefs. “I know this to be true because I have lived through it at various times in the past decade.”
The bill must pass the House and the Senate and then be approved by the governor to become law.
Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, author of the bill, said she hasn’t heard from the governor’s office about where Gov. John Hickenlooper stands on the issue.
In 2009, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed a similar bill that would have mandated collective bargaining for firefighters across the state.
Also, during the Business, Labor and Technology Committee meeting, Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, proposed his bill to make Colorado a right-to-work state, prohibiting employers from mandating employees participate or pay for dues and fees for a union.
Hill said it be an economic boon for Colorado to become a state that honors the right to work as a contract between an individual and an employer.
The bill was tabled by the three Democrats on the committee in a move that likely killed the measure.
Contact Megan Schrader: 405-623-5142 Twitter @CapitolSchrader