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When Gov. Jared Polis agreed with fellow Democrats running the Legislature last year to strap Colorado’s county governments into the fiscal straitjacket of collective bargaining — we only could assume it was because misery loves company.

After all, Polis had approved legislation only two years earlier granting collective-bargaining power to tens of thousands of state government employees. That hamstrung state budget writers and, ultimately, the state’s taxpayers, well into the future.

It meant ever afterward, hardball union reps would hammer out legally binding labor contracts with pliant state bureaucrats, awarding ever-higher pay and benefits across the board, regardless of individual merit — and sticking taxpayers with the tab.

So, the governor must have figured, why not share the pain?

Even so, there was a sigh of relief last May when Polis signed the bill into law extending collective bargaining to county-level public employees. It could have been worse.

An earlier version of last year’s bill had sought to include employees of all the state’s 178 school districts as well as Colorado’s state colleges and universities. But even ruling legislative Democrats and their key influencers in organized labor couldn’t push Polis that far. So, they settled for half a loaf.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it; it was just the beginning of the next phase of the costly, creeping unionization of Colorado’s public employees. A bill making its way through the 2023 legislative session picks up where last year’s successful effort left off.

Senate Bill 23-111 coyly sets up the framework for state K-12 and higher ed employees to unionize — but stops just footsteps from granting them collective-bargaining power. For now.

The bill purports to provide protections for school and university employees who openly gripe about their workplace; who take steps to form or bring in a union, or who participate in organizing. Wink, wink.

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The legislation also supposedly would shield covered employees from retaliation, discrimination and intimidation by their employers. Because, you know, schoolteachers and college instructors must toil in a climate of fear for their jobs. Oh, please.

Cut through feel-good rhetoric about how the measure is intended to give employees a voice, and it becomes clear it simply is a setup for ushering in collective bargaining. That other shoe likely will drop in the near future.

And while SB23-111 stops short of granting collective-bargaining power, it goes further than last year’s legislation by covering yet other public-employee groups such as library, fire and public health workers.

Another insidious effect of the bill would be to further empower the 800-pound gorilla of the lobby at the state Capitol — and in dozens of school districts along the Front Range — teachers unions.

By laying the groundwork as it does for collective bargaining in all school districts — a few dozen of the largest districts collectively bargain now — the legislation would give the likes of the Colorado Education Association and its local satellites a new podium for their political agenda.

That’s over and above collective bargaining, which will hogtie state budgeters into backfilling even more local school district dollars with minimal accountability.

You’ve got to hand it to organized labor; it has been persistent. Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s executive order in 2007 granting limited organizing rights to state employees eventually turned into 2020’s full-fledged collective bargaining. The unions just had to play a waiting game.

Given Colorado’s present-day political alignment, it won’t take nearly as long this time to fully unionize K-12 and higher ed. It’s a good bet that bill gets introduced in 2024.

The Gazette Editorial Board

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