Ballot fires up local groups

Teachers' union, Chamber speak out

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Proposed amendments

Labor-related measures on the ballot:

47: Would prohibit requiring an employee to join and pay dues to a labor union

49: Would prohibit some public employee paycheck deductions

53: Would allow business executives to be held criminally accountable for the business's failure to perform a duty required by law

54: Would prohibit some government contractors from contributing to political causes and candidates

55: Would prohibit the firing of private-sector employees except under a set of specific reasons

56: Would require private employers with 20 or more employees to provide health insurance for workers and dependents

57: Would require safe and healthy workplaces and allow injured workers to seek damages in court beyond workers' compensation

— As labor groups and businesses in Denver brawl over proposed amendments to the state constitution, parties across the state are lending sharp eyes to issues packing this year's ballot.

Seven business-related proposals have drawn concern from all sides in Steamboat Springs.

For example, the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association is encouraging its members to vote against four amendments it considers anti-business. The local teachers' union, however, is promoting those four and fighting three amendments it views as anti-worker.

It all started with Amendment 47.

That constitutional addition would prohibit employers from requiring workers to pay dues to labor organizations. Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall said the Chamber Board of Directors voted to support the measure if it makes the Nov. 4 ballot.

"I think you know (it's important) to give people the opportunity to vote in private to form a union or not," Evans Hall said. "They feel as though the individual's choice is something they support."

Dennis Carlson is the director of the regional state teachers' union affiliate that includes the Steamboat Springs Education Association. About 110 local educators are part of the union, Carlson said. The larger group, the Colorado Education Association, does not take dues from nonmembers, he said.

The union is against Amendment 47.

"We call it the right to work for less," Carlson said. "Basically, it limits the ability for unions to be able to organize and collect dues from members and nonmembers who benefit from the union, and also, these certain agreements have been negotiated in good faith between the labor organizations and employers."

Backlash

After 47 appeared, other labor-related amendments followed. Gov. Bill Ritter and others in the capital are negotiating to try to get all or some of them off the ballot. The parties that proposed the amendments have until Thursday to remove them.

State Rep. Al White, a Hayden Republican running for the state Senate seat representing Steamboat Springs, said he thinks every labor amendment should go.

"I think that our current labor laws are adequate to serve the citizens," he said. "I don't think we need additional tweaking, particularly if it's going to result in these potential union measures, which would have a very deleterious effect on Colorado business if any were adopted. That being the case, I will vote against all of them and all the pro-business measures, as well."

Labor and business should make a "good-faith effort" to retract the Amendments, he said.

White's opponent, Steamboat Democrat Ken Brenner, said he is against the right-to-work measure.

"If you work somewhere and your job place has a union that represents you that negotiates for wages and benefits and workplace safety, you're receiving the benefits of union services," Brenner said. "You should be sharing in the cost of providing those services."

The face-off

The other two amendments seen as pro-business - or anti-worker - are 49 and 54.

The first would prohibit public employers from deducting money from workers' paychecks for anything but specific purposes. Union dues are not included.

The 2008 State Ballot Information Book, prepared by the Colorado Legislative Council, provides arguments for and against each amendment. It states that Amendment 49 could intrude on the "ability of public employees to make individual decisions about paycheck deductions." The amendment also could interfere with local governments' authority to choose which deductions are available, it states.

Amendment 54 restricts political contributions from certain government contractors. The limits would apply to labor groups holding collective bargaining agreements with state or local government.

"That limits our ability to use money that our members have donated for political action, so it would be illegal for us to spend money on political campaigns and spend money on initiatives," Carlson said.

The four amendments that are seen as pro-worker - or anti-business - are 53, 55, 56 and 57.

Those relate to penalties for executives whose businesses break the law; requiring specific cause for termination; requiring employers to provide health insurance; and allowing injured workers to sue employers if they think the workplace is unsafe, respectively.

Evans Hall said the four would be harmful and expensive to businesses and Colorado's business climate. The health insurance amendment, 56, would require companies with 20 or more workers to pay 80 percent of costs for employees and 70 percent for dependents.

"I look at some of the businesses that would have to comply with this - for instance, the restaurants, and it would result in higher costs of doing business, lost jobs, higher cost of goods and services," Evans Hall said. "I think a lot of employers would have to decrease employees' wages, bonuses or other benefits to offset this cost."

Keeping quiet

Most large local employers had little to say.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. would not comment. The only union on the mountain is the ski patrol, Ski Corp. spokesman Mike Lane confirmed. Ski patrol officials referred all questions to Ski Corp.

A spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, the state trade association, said the association has no stance on 47 but is against 55 and 56.

"It's a matter of these issues just not being the best business choice for our industry, so right now we're not going to support them," spokeswoman Jen Rudolph said.

A spokesman for Xcel Energy, which runs the Hayden Station power plant, said the company was not taking a position. Peabody Energy, which runs Twentymile Coal Co., directed questions to the Colorado Mining Association. A spokesman was out of the office as of press time Thursday.

Despite the silence, Brenner said folks were fired up on all issues and candidates.

"Believe me," he said, "Colorado is a political battleground this year, in every sense of the word."

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