Bill for firefighters’ bargaining advances

DENVER — All firefighters in the state would have collective bargaining rights regardless of whether their communities voted against giving them those powers under a bill that won preliminary support in the Colorado Senate on Monday.

Opponents said the measure, SB25, takes a one-size-fits-all approach to the issue, and usurps local authority, including in home-rule cities such as Grand Junction, Colorado Springs and Denver.

The bill is nearly identical to one that cleared the Colorado Legislature in 2009 and later was vetoed by then-Gov. Bill Ritter, who said he did so because it went against those local votes.

This year’s bill, however, is seen as even more wide-reaching, particularly to smaller communities. It applies to fire departments that employ two or more people.

The 2009 measure was for departments with 50 or more full-time firefighters.

Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, said collective bargaining rights the firefighters would earn under the bill isn’t just about getting pay raises. It’s about their health and safety.

“I want to make sure that they are well equipped, that they have the right equipment, that they get the proper rest and work the proper hours and get the proper training,” Tochtrop said. “All they’re asking on this bill is the ability, if they chose to, and there’s no mandate that they have to, to go through the process ... of collective bargaining. They can sit at the table with their districts or with their cities and they can discuss safety issues.”

But Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said the measure places an unfair and unneeded mandate on local communities, and assumes that only through collective bargaining do public safety workers in local communities get what they need and deserve.

“In my community, we voted not once, but twice on coercive bargaining by unions,” Cadman said. “We voted on a tax increase on ourselves for our public safety so we could put that money into our firefighters, into our policemen, into our training, into their retirements. We did it for ourselves. We didn’t need a coercive union bill to require us to take care of ourselves.”

Current law allows cities, towns and special fire protection districts in the state to place ballot measures before voters asking if they want to grant collective bargaining rights to their local firefighters.

Some have, but many others have rejected it. Grand Junction residents last voted against the idea by a wide margin in 2000.

Tochtrop’s bill bypasses those votes and grants the right regardless of local sentiments.

The bill requires a final Senate vote, which could come as early as today, before heading to the House.


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