Steamboat City Council opposes bill that would give local firefighters collective bargaining rights | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat City Council opposes bill that would give local firefighters collective bargaining rights

A Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue engine returns last month from a call. The Steamboat City Council is sending Gov. John Hickenlooper a letter opposing a bill that would grant firefighters here collective bargaining rights.

— In a rare move, the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night agreed to send Gov. John Hickenlooper a letter opposing a Senate bill that aims to give all firefighters in the state collective bargaining rights.

Council members said for the state to force cities to recognize firefighters’ unions and offer them collective bargaining rights without the approval of voters here would "damage local control."

"This issue has a big impact on our community," council member Walter Magill said before the council agreed to oppose the bill.

Firefighters in municipalities currently have to ask their local voters to approve collective bargaining rights.

Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark told the Steamboat Today last month that the bill would "erode our power as a home rule city.”

She added that she worried the bill 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.

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"That could be damaging for a city that relies on sales tax and there’s volatility in the revenue stream," she said about the potential salary negotiations.

The head of Steamboat’s firefighting union had a different view of the bill.

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Capt. Michael Arce, a 16-year veteran of the department, said collective bargaining would benefit local emergency workers.

"It gives us the right to sit at the table (with city managers) and have a voice, and that goes with anything from safety to compensation," he said. "Anybody would love the chance to sit at the table with their boss."

The local firefighters’ union, which represents 26 of the department’s 28 full-time firefighters, currently is not recognized by the city.

The state firefighters’ union is touting the results of a recent statewide poll that showed 86 percent of respondents supported giving firefighters collective bargaining rights.

The council’s decision to send Hickenlooper a letter opposing the Senate bill was not unanimous.

"I don’t know that I’m comfortable with us jumping into something that is so politically charged and partisan," council member Sonja Macys said, adding that she wouldn’t sign the letter.

Senate Bill 25 is strongly opposed by the Colorado Municipal League, of which the city of Steamboat Springs is a member.

Anticipating the bill soon will pass the Democratic-controlled House, the CML has encouraged local governments to voice their opposition directly to Gov. Hickenlooper.

A similar piece of legislation in 2009 also was opposed by the CML, the city of Steamboat Springs and the City Council.

But it was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who said the legislation would "overturn the will of the voters in communities that have voted not to give firefighters collective bargaining rights."

When the latest Senate bill first was introduced, it wasn’t clear whether Steamboat’s full-time firefighting force would be affected because it had less than 50 firefighters.

City Attorney Tony Lettunich said last week that unlike the 2009 bill, the latest version would impact Steamboat and all departments that have more than one firefighter.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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