Pro-choice advocate offers up explanation

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Labor-state is unfamiliar with alternative to forced-labor unionism

Colorado furniture mogul Jake Jabs explained on Tuesday why he’s paying to back a ballot issue that would bar organized labor from collecting mandatory dues from unionized workplaces.

Jabs — president, CEO, owner and founder of American Furniture Warehouse — said struggles with unions in the 1970s may have influenced his anti-labor bias. He spoke Tuesday at a press conference.

He appears in a series of self-produced TV ads supporting Amendment 47, the proposed right-to-work ballot initiative that unions strongly oppose. Jabs said he scheduled the press conference because his office was flooded with calls shortly after the ads appeared.

Jabs recalled tribulations with unions in the 1970s, when he had to force an election before employees voted the unions out of American Furniture.

“I think if we stayed a union company, we wouldn’t be here today, or we would be here, but in a much smaller fashion,” he said.

American Furniture has 12 large stores in Colorado and advertises heavily on TV, radio and daily newspapers.

Jabs said 65 percent of the merchandise in his stores is “American made,” but claims that much of the American furniture he stocks is manufactured in “right-to-work” states.

While American Furniture has remained non-union since the ouster of organized labor in the ’70s, Jabs said unions aren’t trying to again unionize the retailer.

“I don’t think unions pick on companies like American,” he said, adding that the company provides “good pay” and benefits.

But Jabs blamed the union presence in Colorado for scaring upholstery companies and other manufacturers away from the state.

“The union model is just broken,” he said. “It flies against production, putting employees against managers ... If you don’t believe that, ask anyone in the airline industry, automobile industry or steel industry.”

He also said a union-friendly state Legislature and governor could make it easier for organized labor to gain traction in Colorado without a right-to-work law.

Colorado’s business community is divided over Amendment 47.

Although some business groups endorsed the measure, others — including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce — oppose it.

Last week, a group of prominent businessmen — including beer patriarch Bill Coors, hotelier Walter Isenberg and longtime Denver businessman Dan Ritchie — joined Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and union leaders to declare they would back a campaign opposing Amendment 47 and two other anti-union initiatives.

The coalition, which reportedly aims to raise $3 million from local business people, formed after unions agreed to drop four union-backed ballot initiatives that some feared would hurt the economy if voters approved them.

The business representatives reiterated that Colorado’s Labor Peace Act, which requires two elections and a 75 percent majority before a shop can be unionized, has served Colorado well — making the state attractive to both union and non-union companies.

But Jabs said he believes the businessmen were “coerced” into opposing Amendment 47.

He claimed some members of the coalition told him privately that they support right-to-work, but wanted to ensure the four initiatives (including one that would require employers to provide health insurance and another that would prohibit employers from firing without just cause) got off the ballot.

Jabs declined to say how much he plans to spend on the commercials, but later added that financial disclosures should be released soon by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.

Jabs’ advertisements, which have a similar production style as his commercials for American Furniture Warehouse, encourage Coloradans to vote for Amendment 47. They feature men, who appear to be manufacturing workers, also endorsing right-to-work laws.

“If you haven’t noticed, not a lot of jobs or companies are coming to Colorado,” Jabs says in one of the spots. He notes that Colorado is losing jobs to surrounding right-to-work states that are considered more “business friendly” to companies looking to expand.

Jabs said he’s in the uncomfortable position of being a “spokesman” for right-to-work, but was compelled to speak up because the unions were spending millions of dollars to oppose Amendment 47.

“I’m in it for the good of the state of Colorado,” Jabs said. “Hopefully, I have some credibility. Almost everybody in the state of Colorado has bought from American [Furniture Warehouse].”

He said he’s not concerned that die-hard union supporters would boycott his stores.

“I put principle before money,” he said.

Manolo Gonzalez-Estay, a spokesman for a campaign that opposes Amendment 47, said he was disappointed to see Jabs had joined “extremist businesspeople” in supporting right-to-work.

“It’s surprising to see that he would put Colorado at risk,” he said. “And for what purpose?”


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