Gov't workers thrive without collective bargaining

Colorado state workers last year made about 5.6 percent more on average than state workers nationwide, even without a collective-bargaining agreement.

That bucks the national trend, in which skilled state workers without collective-bargaining agreements make about 14.2 percent less per year on average than their counterparts in states with such agreements, according to a salary survey from the American Federation of Teachers.

Gov. Bill Ritter signed an executive order Friday allowing "employee partnerships," which lack binding arbitration clauses and the right to strike found in typical collective-bargaining agreements.

But the order still upset business leaders who fear stronger union influence in state
government. "Colorado's state employees are compensated on a par with other well-paying states, and for 131 years of our state's existence, public-employee compensation was never a real issue," said Tony Gagliardi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Dan Murphy, spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in Douglas County, said that bargaining agreements, offered in 27 states, aren't about getting more pay and benefits.

"The primary benefit of collective bargaining is that it allows the employees and the state to have a structured conversation about everything," Murphy said. "That often leads to better delivery of public services," he said, reiterating a point Ritter made in announcing the change.

Colorado is among 23 states that didn't offer collective bargaining to their workers, but average wages don't appear to have suffered because of that.

A Denver Post review of wage data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that as a group, state workers in Colorado averaged annual salaries of $46,341 in 2006, compared with $43,875 for state workers across the U.S.

The AFT, a union within the AFL-CIO with a small Colorado presence, surveyed average salaries for 45 mostly professional positions in state government throughout the country.

State workers under collective-bargaining agreements on average earned $5,883 more in yearly salary than their counterparts in states without such agreements, according to the AFT survey.

Despite that, many of those positions still paid more in Colorado than elsewhere.

State transportation engineers, for example, averaged annual salaries close to $80,000 in Colorado, compared with the mid-$50,000 range found in other states.

One area where Colorado lagged other states in recent years is in pay increases for its workers.

State workers in Colorado saw their salaries increase on average 3 percent last year, less than the 3.8 percent increase recorded nationally for state employees and the 5 percent gain for private-sector workers in the state, according to the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages.

The average annual salaries of state workers in Wyoming and Arizona jumped more than 7 percent last year, while workers in Nevada and New Mexico enjoyed 6 percent-plus gains.

Colorado state workers received gains in average annual salary of 1.2 percent in 2003, 2 percent in 2004 and 2.4 percent in 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In New Mexico, which offers collective bargaining, annual pay increases averaged 1.3 percent in 2003, 4.7 percent in 2004, 3.1 percent in 2005 and 6.8 percent in 2006.


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