Our View: Firefighter bargaining bill offers no bargain at all
February 26, 2013
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.
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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.