Colorado Public Sector Workers on the Verge of Winning Right to Unionize

From today’s Jacobin Magazine:

he Colorado legislature will soon consider a bill that would establish collective bargaining rights for the hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in the state who are currently without such a framework. The legislation’s primary sponsors are the majority leaders in both chambers — Democrats Daneya Esgar in the House and Stephen Fenberg in the Senate — and the AFL-CIO and the Colorado Education Association (CEA) are backing the bill too.

Jacobin’s Alex N. Press spoke to workers from Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 7799, which is helping lead the charge for the legislation: Alex Wolf-Root, an adjunct lecturer in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado Boulder and a founding member and current vice president of CWA Local 7799; Jacob OldeFest, a paramedic for Denver Health and a member of the Denver Health Workers United union; and Rachel Godby, a registered nurse at UCHealth Memorial North and Central hospitals and a member of UCHealth Workers United. They discussed the obstacles they face without collective bargaining rights, the wave of workers leaving health care, and where legislation fits into building worker power.


ANP: So, you’re part of a coalition pushing to expand collective bargaining rights for public sector workers in Colorado. What are your rights now, and how will the bill change them?

AWR: It’s important that we start by stating that we have the right to organize and unionize regardless of what state labor law says about collective bargaining. However, because we’re public workers, our right to collectively bargain and force recognition with our bosses is different than in the private sector. In the private sector, employees’ right to organize is codified through the National Labor Relations Board. Those rules and regulations don’t apply to public workers, whose organizing rights are determined state by state.

In Colorado, the law is silent on the rights of the vast majority of public workers. We recently passed a bill for state workers, which created a union that represents them. But with respect to all other public workers, be they health care workers, higher ed, K-12, firefighters, or municipal workers, the state has no legal framework for us to get to the table. Some local jurisdictions have passed ordinances or laws to change things, but this bill will provide a legal framework for all public workers to have our unions recognized by our bosses and collectively bargain.

ANP: What specifically is in the draft of the bill?

AWR: There are two avenues for recognition: the standard 30 percent of workers signing cards and holding an election route, and then card check, i.e., 50 percent plus one, which is important because of what the boss can do between when elections are called and when they happen. The bill also has strong protections against employee interference — retaliation, intimidation, and discouraging unionization — both once there’s a recognized union and beforehand.

It is very open around what can be on the table. We’re firm believers in a wide scope of bargaining so that we can bargain for the common good: for class sizes, for staffing ratios, etc. Additionally, there is no restriction on our right to strike, because we know that a collective bargaining agreement is only as strong as the power we bring, and the right to strike is the biggest flex of that power. If that gets chopped off at the knee, we lose a lot more power than we would gain through a collective bargaining agreement.

Read the complete interview here.