DENVER (AP) – A looming bill on firefighters and labor rights could expose cracks in the unified Democratic front controlling Colorado government.
A Senate committee planned to begin work Wednesday on a bill that would allow collective bargaining for Colorado firefighters without local government approval. The measure has been a long-stalled priority for labor groups. But it’s strongly opposed by local governments that say the state shouldn’t be able to overstep local labor ordinances.
The firefighting measure would affect only a few thousand people, but it’s being carefully watched as a test of labor’s strength with new Democratic majorities in both chambers. A similar measure was vetoed in 2009 by former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter.
This year, it’s far from certain whether all Democrats or the current Democratic governor will support the idea. Even the measure’s sponsor isn’t sure – and she leads the committee that will give it an initial hearing.
Democratic Sen. Lois Tochtrop of Thornton sponsored the 2009 version and said it’s too soon to say whether her fellow Democrats support it.
“Everybody just dearly loves the firefighters until it’s time to give them benefits,” Tochtrop said.
The measure would affect only professional firefighters, not volunteer firefighters or any other public employees, including police officers. The bargaining rights would not include binding arbitration.
Opponents to the union measure were just as uncertain about its prospects. Kevin Bommer of the Colorado Municipal League said Tuesday that local officials were working hard to urge Democrats to reject the bill.
“Why does the state feel it needs to mandate something that can be achieved locally?” Bommer asked.
The governor’s office has been scrambling to find a compromise to keep both sides happy. Neither side has an idea whether Gov. John Hickenlooper would sign a measure and anger local officials, or veto it and infuriate labor groups.
Hickenlooper will be out of town for the first firefighters’ union hearing. He is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday. A spokesman said Hickenlooper hasn’t yet taken a position.
“We continue to review the proposed legislation and are working with interested parties to find common ground,” spokesman Eric Brown wrote in an email.
– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer
LINK: Senate Bill 25
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