Our View: Firefighter bargaining bill offers no bargain at all

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Editorial Board, January to May 2013

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Randy Rudasics, community representative
  • John Centner, community representative

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Proposed legislation that would give firefighters in local municipalities like Steamboat Springs collective bargaining rights is bad policy that should be rejected by lawmakers in the Colorado House of Representatives.

It’s for that reason we support the Steamboat Springs City Council’s decision last week to formalize its opposition to Senate Bill 25 in the form of a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who also has expressed his opposition to the measure. It is our hope that House lawmakers like Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, recognize the bill’s inherent flaws and send it to its death.

Senate Bill 25 would give collective bargaining rights to all fire departments with two or more firefighters, even if local voters previously have voted not to give such rights to their firefighters. Under existing state law, firefighters have the right to go to their voters to seek collective bargaining rights.

In Steamboat, 26 of the fire department’s 28 full-time professional firefighters are members of a local union not recognized by the city. Firefighters say the bill would give them a stronger voice with their employers on matters ranging from safety to compensation.

We fear Senate Bill 26 would do more than give firefighters a stronger voice. The effects of giving local firefighters collective bargaining rights could be far-reaching and ultimately could come at the expense, literally, of other city employees and budget items. As Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark correctly noted, the legislation could force cities to agree to salary increases for firefighters throughout an extended number of years and give one group of employees a power that is not held by any other group of city employees.

“That could be damaging for a city that relies on sales tax and there’s volatility in the revenue stream,” Hinsvark said last week.

To be clear: We want our firefighters to be able to make a living in our city, and we need to provide them the resources to do their important jobs effectively and safely. But the city also must balance the cost of fire services with other essential services. The fact remains that turnover is low within the Steamboat Springs Fire Department, and firefighters continue to have the right to go to local voters and ask for collective bargaining rights.

It’s inappropriate and over-reaching for Senate Bill 25 to require local municipalities like ours to recognize such bargaining rights. We hope the Democratic majority in the statehouse will reject party politics and reverse course on this ill-conceived legislation.

Comments

Fred Duckels 1 year, 1 month ago

This probably doomed bill is not by accident and we will continue to observe excercises designed to placate the base, and eventually by repetition the unthinkable is the new reality. Embarassingly enough our state is a pioneer for destroying the freedoms of which we are so proud.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 1 month ago

Ryan,

You appear "cloudy" on what the bill proposes. Currently, firefighters do not lack First Amendments rights and are allowed to assemble and speak freely. They are currently allowed to join unions, speak at board meetings and have the same rights as everyone else.

Strictly speaking, the bill removes the freedom which fire depts are allowed to manage staff and requires fire depts of more than 2 employees recognize unions as the collective bargaining units and thus apply all of the other laws that come into force when dealing with a collective bargaining unit.

This is not whether unions are good or bad. This is whether the normal process for recognizing an union as the collective bargaining unit is short circuited and the union automatically becomes the collective bargaining unit.

Governor Hickenlooper appeared to support it when it applied to depts of 50 or more paid staff. A size where many dire depts are unionized so those being forced to recognize the union could be expected to make the change without much impact on the dept. But when bill was changed to force recognizing the union if the fire dept has 2 or more paid staff is when Hickenlooper stopped supporting it. He recognizes that while a large operation can cope with unions that a 2 person operation is seriously harder to manage when unionized. And so he didn't want to be labelled as declaring war on the small fire districts in the state.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 1 month ago

Nope, you still miss it. Firefighters always have rights.

It was acceptable to Democrats that fire districts lose rights when they have many employees, but Hickenlooper does not support removing rights from small fire districts.

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