5/5/08

'They need to kill it in Colorado'

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Ballot fight brews below the border

On the National Right to Work Web site, Colorado is identified as a "forced unionism state." This means it is not one of the 22 states that have adopted right-to-work laws. A move is on to change that situation through a right-to-work ballot initiative in the November general election. Voters will be asked to change the Colorado constitution to say that workers cannot be required to join a union or pay union dues.

Right-to-work supporters began planning the initiative in earnest late last year after Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter signed an executive order to create a bargaining partnership with state workers, a move strongly opposed by businesses and Republicans, according to published reports.

This should be a dandy big-ticket fight. Initiative supporters, including Jonathan Coors of the brewery family and American Furniture Warehouse, are expected to spend millions of dollars to sell the amendment to Colorado voters.

The unions are fighting back through a labor-sponsored coalition that is raising money from labor unions and individuals to defeat the right-to-work amendment.

Wyoming, meanwhile, has been a right-to-work state since 1963, when the Legislature adopted the law on a vote along party lines with the Republicans for and most Democrats opposed.

Emotions were running so high that Gov. Cliff Hansen asked the National Guard to stand by during the debate.

Backing right-to-work laws were the Wyoming Farm Bureau, Associated General Contractors, the Wyoming Trucking Association, the Wyoming Stock Growers, the Wyoming Retail Merchants Association and the Wyoming Grange.

Wyoming was the 20th state to adopt the laws. Florida was the first in 1943. Ten more states followed suit in 1947 and four more in the 1950s. In the last 20 years, only three states have gone with right-to-work, suggesting the movement has lost momentum.

The last state to pass the law was Oklahoma in 2001. Idaho is trying to get a right-to-work repealer on the ballot, said Kim Floyd, executive director of the Wyoming AFL-CIO.

In Wyoming, the adoption of right-to-work laws was a bitter pill that union supporters have never wholly digested. For years afterward the Democrats tried to get the law repealed with no luck.

"They need to kill it in Colorado, let me tell you," Floyd said. "It drives down wages. It does just the opposite of what they claim."

The title "right-to-work," he said, is a misnomer because everyone has the right to work.

"It says that if you go to work on a property with a local union that represents employees, you can receive all the benefits the union negotiates, like pay raises," he added.

"You receive all that free and if you have a problem on the job site they have to represent you or you can sue them," Floyd said. "They make free riders."

The Wyoming Legislature has not even considered repeal since the late Sen. John Vinich, a Fremont County Democrat, made repeated attempts. A bill that would have required employees who share in union-negotiated benefits to pay their fair share of dues went nowhere, Floyd said.

As an argument in favor of the "fair share" bill, he said the stock growers and wool growers must pay for brand inspections or they cannot raise cattle or sheep in the state.

Union membership in the state, meanwhile, increased by about 4,000 in the current energy boom.

"When the boom's over a lot will travel out," he said, referring to the plumbers, pipe fitters and electricians in the building trades.

(trib.com)

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