Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Springs seen as test case for firefighters union bill

MEGAN SCHRADER Updated: February 4, 2013 at 12:00 am

DENVER – Republicans used Colorado Springs — where voters have twice defeated measures allowing local firefighters to unionize — as an example Monday of why the state shouldn’t pass legislation that takes voters out of the process.

Senate Bill 25 was won preliminary approval Monday in the Senate on a 20-13 vote. It will be considered one more time before moving to the House.

The bill would allow firefighters to unionize if a majority of the department supports the move. Current law allows voters to approve collective bargaining for firefighters.

Senate Republican Leader Bill Cadman said the bill is insulting to the more than 400,000 voters in his city who opposed unionization for firefighters.

“We didn’t need it then. We don’t need it now,” Cadman, of Colorado Springs, said. “We are literally going door to door and saying ‘excuse me, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said supporting the bill is easy despite the 1979 and 1999 votes against allowing firefighters to bargain collectively with city government.

“I represent folks in Colorado Springs, and a portion of Colorado Springs that’s much more progressive than what’s come out of City Hall in the past with respect to how we treat our government employees,” Morse said.

Morse said his constituents support firefighters and want them to have a voice at the table, and he welcomed conversations with police officers and teachers about similar legislation.

“Even the referees of the NFL had to go on strike to get the attention of the owners,” Morse said. “We are supporting our firefighters, which we claimed to do all last summer as our city was on fire, now we’re actually just putting our money where our mouth is.”

Cadman agreed that Colorado Springs supports firefighters, pointing to the voter approved $28 million tax increase to support public safety.

But he said voters don’t need a union telling them how many fire trucks the city needs, what type of equipment and how much firefighters ought to be paid.

“This is about how you feel about coercive negotiation,” Cadman said.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, forces municipalities and counties to strike an agreement with the unions by a certain date or they must go to arbitration and finally to a vote of the people to resolve any conflict.

The GOP delegation in the Senate made a variety of attempts to alter the bill Monday by exempting small jurisdictions and municipalities that had expressly voted against unions. But all the proposed amendments failed to the Democratic majority.

Under the bill, firefighters would be prohibited from striking. Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, attempted to put teeth in that prohibition with an amendment saying any employees who strike could be terminated. That amendment also failed.

Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill in 2009. A number of municipalities, including the mayors of both Boulder and Colorado Springs, have opposed the bill as an infringement on home rule.

Contact Megan Schrader: 719-286-0644 Twitter @CapitolSchrader

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