Unions rush into Colorado

A Colorado House committee will debate today whether to impose a ban on strikes by public employees.

Evan Dreyer, spokesman for Gov. Bill Ritter, said that if a strike were to occur, the state would rely on its plans to keep the government running during a time of emergency or natural disaster. But he said the issue should be considered moot because Ritter has promised to sign a strike ban.

On Nov. 2, Ritter signed an executive order allowing employees more power to join unions and bargain as a group. The order prohibited public employees strikes, but an opinion by Attorney General John Suthers said the governor could not override court rulings allowing the action.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, introduced a bill that would ban strikes by all public employees, including teachers and Regional Transportation District workers, and would impose $10,000-aday fines and firing for violators.

Ritter said in December that he would not sign that bill because its scope exceeded the executive order that he had directed only to state workers.

On Friday, Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, introduced a competing measure that would ban strikes by employees in the state personnel system. This is the governor’s preferred bill, Dreyer said.

Gardner said he believes more punitive measures are needed to ensure prison guards or snowplow drivers do not walk off the job when they are needed.

“My bill takes care of the problem for all public employees and has some teeth in it,” Gardner said. “Representative Riesberg’s will be the minimum political cover for the governor’s office to deal with the can of worms he opened in his executive order.”

Dreyer noted that the state has a basic plan for situations in which it must operate with a skeleton crew, but specific departments seemed less prepared.

Catherine Sanguinetti, public information officer for the Department of Corrections, said she didn’t believe publicsafety workers could strike. The Teamsters recently opened an office in CaƱon City and several unions have asked for employee information, she noted.

Department of Labor and Employment spokesman Bill Thoennes said that if the department lost many workers, managers could handle duties such as unemployment insurance claims temporarily. “It would break down pretty quickly, probably within a number of days,” he said.


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