Union-happy Gov. fools business backers

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Big Business turns its back on worker-choice scheme

Two weeks ago, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce blew it. Chamber leadership turned its back on its mission, its small-business members, and its principles when it voted to oppose Amendment 47 - Colorado's Right to Work Amendment - on this November's ballot. The move is a misguided effort to appease Gov. Bill Ritter and big labor bosses.

By opposing the basic concept that nobody should be forced to support a union against his or her will, the chamber invites the question of whose interests it really represents. The chamber's Web site states, "The Chamber is a powerful and effective advocate for both small and large businesses at the local, state and federal levels." But small and large businesses support right to work overwhelmingly.

This is an unfortunate reflection of the new pressure on Colorado civic leaders under the Ritter administration. When Colorado elected Ritter in 2006, much of the business community was open to his promises he would be a pro-commerce, pro-growth Democrat. Business was fooled.

Until Ritter took office, Colorado's unique law, the Labor Peace Act, had maintained a half-century of rough balance that business and labor could live with. That peace was doomed even before the election, with Ritter's secret pledge to sign union-shop legislation that would make it easier to force employees to support unions. In 2007, state lawmakers did labor bosses' bidding by passing HB 1072. They trashed the Peace Act and the uneasy peace.

Business leaders felt double-crossed by the new governor and launched a firestorm of protest that ultimately pressured him to veto the bill, restoring the status quo. But after spending millions to take over state government, big labor wasn't satisfied with the status quo. Pressure for payback intensified.

Last November, Ritter obliged with his infamous Friday afternoon executive order opening the state work force to exclusive representation, labor recruiting and collective bargaining. The payback has continued in the legislature, with lawmakers passing numerous bills to benefit unions and strengthen their muscle in the workplace.

Much has been made of "the war between business and labor" in this year's election season. But the business community didn't ask for any of this. Colorado was emerging from the recession of a few years back and business leaders looked forward to working with Ritter to move forward.

Now, as our economic security is battered by rising oil prices, spiraling grocery prices and climbing unemployment, Colorado needs an inviting economic climate, focused on bringing new businesses and jobs. Creating a hostile, expensive-employment environment is exactly the wrong move.

Amendment 47 is a turn back toward growth and expanding opportunity.

But the administration and labor bosses are pushing back, threatening formal and informal consequences for opposition to their agenda. Two weeks ago, the chamber blinked, hoping for peace by appeasement. That one of the state's largest business groups would take a position so far from the mainstream of its membership, its mission and basic economics is startling and disappointing.

The Denver chamber itself acknowledged Amendment 47 is "a basic business principle," and it further stated that "allowing unions the ability to organize, but not requiring workers to participate or pay dues, makes sense in our world." An unidentified "major downtown employer who also is a prominent member of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce" admitted as much in "Chamber has its reasons for right-to-work stand," Rocky Mountain News business editor Rob Reuteman's June 14 column: "If it gets on the ballot, I'll vote for it." This, even though he is advocating to keep it off the ballot.

The Denver chamber and its members understand that Amendment 47 is good for Colorado. Reuteman's column reveals their "vote 'no' on everything" strategy as a basic lack of leadership and putting politics over principle.

This is shortsighted. We haven't heard the last from Ritter, compliant lawmakers or activist groups with a radical vision for Colorado. We should not allow ourselves to be fooled again. We should repair the damage already done.

Now is the time for the business community - and everyone who values freedom of choice and conscience - to stand and support Colorado families' economic security and help make this a jobs-friendly, growth-friendly state. We can accomplish this in part by passing Amendment 47.

- Republican Sen. Shawn Mitchell represents Broomfield in the Colorado General Assembly.


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