10/4/08

WSJ editors back Colo. labor extortion deal

Related: "Big Bedfellows gang up against the little guy"
More worker-choice stories: here • Big Bedfellows stories: here

Workers are neither smart enough nor wealthy enough to choose for themselves

For a sense of how Big Labor now operates, take a look at a recent brawl in Colorado. That's where a last-minute deal this week only narrowly stopped unions from tanking the entire state economy in an attempt to defeat a right-to-work ballot initiative.

The fight started earlier this year when a coalition of business interests, led by brewery heir Jonathan Coors, got a "right-to-work" amendment on the November ballot. Twenty-two American states currently have right-to-work laws, which allow employees to decide whether to join or financially support a union and which are a big boost to economic growth.

Right-to-work laws tend to make it harder to organize a union, and Big Labor's national priority these days is reversing a long-term trend of falling union numbers. So at the first hint of the initiative, Colorado's labor unions mobilized to defeat the measure, while escalating with four antibusiness ballot initiatives as political retaliation.

One measure would have required any company with more than 20 employees to pay for 80% of health insurance premiums. Another would have made an executive criminally liable for fraudulent activities within their businesses. The third would have given workers the ability to seek additional damages in court beyond workers' compensation. A final one would have forbidden companies from firing employees without a specific reason, and given dismissed workers additional court routes. Taken together, these measures would have turned business-friendly Colorado into one of the most inhospitable work environments in the nation.

The irony is that Colorado needs right to work less than other states because of its unique 1943 Labor Peace Act. That law requires unions to hold a second vote after organizing a workplace to create an all-union shop where membership fees would be mandated as a condition of employment. The labor-peace law already makes it all but impossible to compel workers to join unions or pay agency fees against their will. Unions represented 8.7% of workers in Colorado last year, compared with 12.1% nationwide.

Hoping to send a message beyond Colorado, national unions jumped into this fight, raising $12 million to defeat the right-to-work measure and pass the labor proposals. The right-to-work campaign, by contrast, has struggled to break $1 million in campaign support. Business leaders realized that damage from the labor initiatives would far outweigh any gain from an actual right-to-work law.

Which is why it is good news that the two sides this week struck a deal that will spare Colorado's economy. In return for a business community pledge to raise $3 million to help defeat the right-to-work amendment, labor outfits agreed to pull their four initiatives from the ballot. Some credit here goes to Colorado Democrats -- including Governor Bill Ritter, Senator Ken Salazar and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper -- who were themselves petrified by their labor friends' actions, and helped bring together the two sides.

Much as we support right to work, this was surely the best outcome for Colorado, given the possible economic costs. The lesson for other states is that if they intend to engage in a right-to-work battle with today's unions, they'd better come armed with a big bankroll.

(online.wsj.com)

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