Governor tells Democratic leaders he’ll veto firefighters bargaining bill

Gov. John Hickenlooper vowed Tuesday to veto a measure that would give all firefighters collective bargaining rights.

In a letter to Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, the Democratic governor said he can’t support a bill that would take away the ability of local voters to make that decision for their local fire departments.

The measure, SB25, would negate any local vote that bars collective bargaining rights in determining pay and other working conditions to local departments, and give them that authority anyway.

“We do not believe it is a matter of state interest to require mandatory bargaining between a locality and its firefighters,” Hickenlooper said in the two-page letter. “It is a matter of state interest, however, that the political rights of firefighters to engage in meaningful dialogue with their local elected representatives, including petitioning for local elections, be fully protected.”

The bill, introduced by Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, cleared the Colorado Senate on a near party-line 19-15 vote. Sen. Gail Schwartz, whose district includes Delta County, was the lone Democrat to oppose it.

It tentatively is scheduled to be heard in the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee early next month.

Schwartz said she might have supported the measure if it didn’t include firefighters at departments of two or more members, saying it impacted too many smaller departments.

A similar measure approved in the Legislature in 2009, which was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, would have granted collective bargaining rights to firefighters in departments of 50 or more members.

While a handful of communities around the state have voted to give their firefighters such powers, most have not. Grand Junction voters last rejected the idea by a wide margin in 2000.

Hickenlooper’s letter calls on legislators to find “a different approach” to the issue without violating local control.

Kevin Bommer, deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League, which has been fighting the measure, applauded the governor’s letter, but said he’s uncertain how it will affect debate over the bill.

Bommer said current law already allows firefighters to obtain collective bargaining powers. “There’s not a problem here for the General Assembly to fix,” he said.

While union membership in Colorado isn’t large — about 8 percent, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — union contributions to political campaigns are. Unions gave Democratic candidates millions of dollars in last year’s elections alone, helping them win a majority in the Legislature.

Ferrandino was noncommittal on what he would do with the bill in light of the governor’s letter.

“We have said from the beginning that we will work with all stakeholders on this critical issue,” the speaker said in a statement. “I’m calling on all the involved parties to come together in the coming days to find common ground.”


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