Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Denver An anti-union measure that stirred up the costliest ballot fight in the state's history was defeated by Colorado voters.
Amendment 47, the most controversial of three labor-related proposals, would have banned agreements requiring workers to pay for union representation. Voters also shot down another measure - Amendment 49 - that would have banned union-dues deductions from the paychecks of government workers.
A third initiative, Amendment 54, narrowly won. It bans political contributions by companies and nonprofits that win exclusive contracts with government as well as unions that represent government workers.
Organized labor activists who gathered at the Sheraton Hotel in Denver focused on the defeat of at least two of the three anti-union amendments.
"That's a big statement," Littleton firefighter Joel Heinemann said. "The voters, they understood and supported us."
The showdown at the polls divided the business community, mobilized union advocates and ultimately led to the most expensive campaign tab ever for Colorado ballot initiatives.
Initially, labor groups retaliated with a barrage of ballot initiatives that would have created sweeping new regulations for business. At the 11th hour, they withdrew the measures from the ballot in a compromise that had certain business leaders agreeing to help defeat the amendments.
"It is a new era for labor relations in Colorado," said Dwayne Stephens, president of the Colorado AFL-CIO. "Without business labor doesn't exist and without labor business doesn't exist. We've got to find that balance."
Labor observers said the battle reflects growing concern among conservatives about a resurgence in the labor movement's political and organizing clout.
"You've got to connect the steam gathering behind all this to labor activity being on the rise in Colorado," said Patrick Scully, an employment law attorney in the Denver offices of Sherman & Howard.
After years of declining participation, union membership inched up to 8.7 percent of Colorado's work force in 2007.
From the labor community's standpoint, the ballot brawl started with the effort to get Amendment 47 in front of voters. Supporters of the effort included Jonathan Coors, of the brewery family; American Furniture Warehouse founder Jake Jabs and Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier.
"We are comforted in knowing that we took a principled stand and fought for it until the end," said Amendment 47 spokesman Kelley Harp.
The push to get 47 on the ballot likely began after Democrats took control of the Capitol in 2007 for the first time in decades.
Labor leaders nearly won changes that would have made it easier to workers to form unions.
"Labor went to the legislature right away," said Roberto Corrada, a law professor at the University of Denver, who has followed the issue closely. "Business was so mad that labor would do this. That's when the threats about Amendment 47 started."
Although Gov. Bill Ritter ultimately vetoed the legislation, he issued two executive orders related to government unions. He reversed former Gov. Bill Owens' ban on the practice of deducting union dues from employee paychecks. He signed another order permitting 32,000 state workers to unionize.