By BARRY POULSON
L abor relations in Colorado have been conducted under the Colorado Peace Act, enacted in 1943. That Act established rules of the game for collective bargaining in the private sector; public employees were specifically excluded from these provisions. Colorado lawmakers have never enacted legislation for collective bargaining for public employees.
Last fall Governor Ritter shocked many Colorado citizens by granting collective bargaining rights for state employees through executive order. That executive order certainly complicates the rules of the game governing labor relations in the public sector. The order declares that any state employees joining a ‘partnership’ must give up the right to strike as a condition of their membership.
Ritter’s Executive Order is in conflict with a ruling by the Supreme Court in 1992. The Court ruled that public employees do have the right to strike, citing a statute passed in 1915.
Further complicating Colorado labor law will be a series of initiatives proposed for the November ballot. A Right To Work initiative would protect the right of workers to choose whether or not to join a union, outlawing union shop agreements. Labor unions are proposing a number of initiatives that would mandate cost of living raises, health benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. Other labor union initiatives would restrict layoffs, and impose other constraints on employers.
Just when you thought that Colorado labor law is complicated enough, the federal government has decided to get into the act. HR 980, which has been approved in the United States House of Representatives , and is winding its way through the Senate, would require state and local governments to bargain collectively with public safety employees, including law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical service personnel.
The bill grants authority to public safety employees to form a union, and requires public safety employers to bargain collectively with the union regarding wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment. The bill would grant power to the Federal Labor Relations Authority to enforce these rules for collective bargaining between public safety employees and employers.
HR 980 states that the Act shall not be construed to invalidate some existing rules enacted by state and local governments. However, the proposed federal legislation would conflict with current state and local laws governing labor relations in the public sector, and it is not clear how these conflicts would be resolved. For example, the new federal law would prohibit public safety employees, or their union, from engaging in a strike against their employer. On the one hand we would have the Federal Labor Relations Authority and Governor Ritter saying that public employees do not have the right to strike; and, on the other hand, the Colorado Supreme Court ruling that these employees do have the right to strike.
It is not clear what Colorado labor law will look like if HR 980 becomes law, as it almost certainly would should Barack Obama be elected President . What is clear is that the last thing the state needs is federal meddling in our labor laws governing public employees. HR 980 would create a new federal bureaucracy with powers to regulate labor relations at both the state and local level.
If there ever was a time when Colorado citizens should draw a line in the sand over states rights issues, it is to challenge this proposed federal legislation. Colorado citizens should communicate to their representatives in Congress that we are quite capable of designing rules of the game for labor relations without such federal meddling.
Barry Poulson is a Distinguished Scholar with the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute. “Independent Ideas” normally runs on the second and fourth Monday of each month. The opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Colorado Daily management or staff.