College personnel issue moves ahead to full House vote

DENVER — Mesa State College workers sparred over a bill Thursday that would allow them to opt out of the state’s personnel system.

The measure, which narrowly passed the House Economic & Business Development Committee, would allow the 120 college workers who are in the system to elect to be unclassified workers, meaning they would lose certain protections offered under the system.

Some of the employees said the system is broken and thought they’d fare better in pay and benefits if they worked at the will of college administrators, but others said that system should be fixed and expressed worry that the four-year school could fire them without cause if the bill becomes law.

“It has become clear that the administration at Mesa State College has a strong preference for hiring nonclassified employees,” said Tom Orrell, an information-technology worker who traveled to Denver with four others who opposed the measure.

“At times, it seems like who you know is more important than what you know in the hiring process.”

Mesa workers Jeanne Herring and Rick Fox, however, said all they want is the choice of being in the system, which classifies state positions to determine pay rates and provides strict guidelines for hiring and firing.

The two said those guidelines end up tying the hands of the college and make it harder for it to replace workers who have left.

“It is frustrating when ... you’re having to pick up the parts of their job because it takes three, six, seven, eight months to fill jobs within the classified system,” Herring said.

“Seventy-five percent of the people want that choice,” added Fox, president of the school’s Classified Employees Council. “We want the right to be able to choose to have our jobs controlled locally rather than in the Statehouse.”

The six Democrats on the 13-member panel questioned the proponents of the measure about why they would give up the union-like protections the personnel system offers.

The remaining seven Republicans attacked opponents for being union workers.

Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, questioned the political contributions of Colorado WINS, which represents numerous state workers, including several at the college. Later, Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, referred to the union as “Colorado Loses.”

Consequently, the measure, introduced by Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, passed on a 7-6 party-line vote. It next heads to the full House, where Republicans have a 33-32 vote majority.


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