collective bargaining

Lora Thomas, at the podium, and other Douglas County commissioners talk about their opposition to a proposed bill on collective bargaining for county employees on April 22.

Pending legislation that paves the way for unionizing Colorado’s county government employees is a train wreck in the making.

An effort in the state Senate late last week to amend out a few of the proposal’s more problematic provisions — doesn’t make it any less of a train wreck.

The fact that earlier drafts of the proposal would have ensnared even more employees and left taxpayers on the hook for even more wage and benefit hikes — also doesn’t make the current proposal any less of a train wreck.

At the end of the day, Senate Bill 230 still opens the door to collective bargaining for some 38,000 employees in 64 counties. And each county’s taxpayers will be stuck with the tab. It will risk busting county budgets — so that ruling Democrats at the Capitol can make good on their campaign obligations to organized labor.

Bottom line: Collective bargaining of public employees wreaks havoc with local government — and the state certainly has no place butting into the business of the counties.

That’s why most counties oppose the proposal. And it is why Gov. Jared Polis must make good on his original threat earlier this year to veto a collective bargaining bill. Sure, that was an expanded version of the current proposal, but as noted — it’s still a train wreck.

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Collective bargaining requires an employer to negotiate pay and benefits with a union under threat of a settlement being imposed by an arbitrator if negotiations stalemate. That simply doesn’t belong in the public sector. Unlike a private company, which answers to its shareholders, a county is “owned” by the taxpaying public. Taxpayers have a right to expect those institutions to operate within their means. Sparsely populated rural counties operate on a shoestring as it is. All counties large and small cannot afford to be over a budgetary barrel, which is where collective bargaining will leave them.

Local governments must have the flexibility to reconfigure staff or postpone raises in an economic downturn, when tax revenue slumps. That flexibility is gone when a union steps in. Under collective bargaining, the government would in all likelihood have to make good on negotiated pay and benefit hikes by slashing other basic services.

The governor wisely perceived this giveaway to big unions as a fiscal nightmare. At one point, higher education and the state’s public schoolteachers also were in the bill sponsors’ sights. Surely, the governor doesn’t wish to impose the budgetary boondoggle of collective bargaining on counties any more than he did on higher ed or K-12 schools.

It was a blow to the state budget when Polis signed collective bargaining into law for state employees in 2020. It is guaranteed to hobble state budget writers in the legislature and, ultimately, all the state’s taxpayers for years to come. From now on, the officially sanctioned state employees’ union will be able to bareknuckle its way to a hefty pay-and-benefits package at the bargaining table with state — and the taxpaying public will have to pay up.

Let’s not hand our counties that same fate.

We’ll say it again: The purpose of government — state, local or federal for that matter — isn’t to create high-paying jobs. It is to provide essential services to the taxpayers who foot the bill. Governor, don’t make it impossible for local government to fulfill that basic responsibility.