Colorado questions union-dues deductions

Related: "How much should gov't do for union politics?"
More union-dues stories: hereMore worker-choice stories: here

Out-of-state union cash overwhelms voters

State government writes $95 million worth of paychecks to about 70,000 workers each month. What can and cannot be automatically deducted has long been the purview of Colorado governors. That would change under Amendment 49, a permanent rule for public payroll deductions.

Amendment 49, which would be added to the state constitution if voters approve on Nov. 4, would prohibit deductions for anything except taxes, insurance, garnishees, liens and charitable contributions.

It would apply to all public payrolls, including those of counties, cities and school districts. And it would reverse an executive order signed by Gov. Bill Ritter shortly after he took office in January 2007 that allows union dues to be automatically deducted from state paychecks.

Jon Caldara, author of Amendment 49 and president of the Golden-based Independence Institute, a free-market think tank, said the proposal is important because public payrolls should not be used to funnel money to special interest groups.

Opponents say it's aimed primarily at unions.

Supporters gathered about 126,000 signatures to place the proposal before voters, Caldara said. And it has already won the endorsement of such people as former Colorado Sen. Hank Brown.

In addition, several counties, including Larimer, have already adopted similar language.

"There were always a lot of questions about what could be deducted and what we would authorize," said John Gamlin, Larimer County's assistant director of human resources. "We wanted to have a limited number that were focused in this way, rather than simply doing things on an ad hoc basis."

Though Amendment 49 has already won broad-based support from governments, some politicos question the impact it will have on unions, particularly the new unions forming within state government.

"If you can't deduct dues from paychecks anymore, you're making people's choice to join a union moot," said political strategist Steve Welchert, who is not working for either campaign. "If I came to you and asked you to write a check each month, that's a burden. It would essentially kill the union."

That's also the view of Protect Colorado's Future, a pro-union campaign group that's raised several million dollars to defeat Amendment 49.

"What concerns us is the propaganda being circulated by Jon Caldara that this has something to do with clean government. It has nothing to do with clean government. It's about unions," said Jess Knox, director of Protect Colorado's Future.

Knox said his group expects to raise $10 million to $15 million to fight Amendment 49 and other initiatives believed to have a negative effect on unions. One, Amendment 47, would ban agreements requiring workers to pay for union representation.

Amendment 54 would prohibit sole-source contractors with state contracts and unions from contributing to political campaigns.

Joel Heinemann, a 42-year-old Littleton firefighter who appears in an anti-Amendment 49 TV commercial, said the measure "has to do with my paycheck and somebody else telling me what I can and can't have taken out of my paycheck. This would take that out of my control," he said.

Thousands of union workers across the state are mobilizing to fight the amendment.

"We've had a great response from people," Knox said. "They're like, if this is going to affect my firefighters, teachers and nurses, then I want to do something about it."

Responded Caldara, "Apparently, they haven't read the amendment. It doesn't take away their voices, and it has nothing to do with their jobs . . . We're just saying government is not going to be the funneling mechanism for them."

Last week, Caldara said he would pull Amendment 49 from the ballot if Gov. Ritter withdrew his executive order authorizing collective bargaining.

Ritter's spokesman described the gesture as "a stunt."

What Amendment 49 would do

Prohibit automatic deductions for special interest groups and unions from public payrolls, such as those for state and county government workers, as well as cities and special districts.

* Who is for it? Jon Caldara, president of the Golden-based Independence Institute, and former Colorado Sen. Hank Brown

* The money for it: $97,881, including in-kind contributions from the Independence Institute

* Who is against it? Protect Colorado's Future and a number of unions

* The money against it: $3.6 million


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