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Democrats Flex Labor Muscles In Colorado Legislature

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Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – A labor question that could test Democratic solidarity in the Colorado Legislature has gone in favor of the unions – for now.

A Senate committee voted 3-2 along party lines Wednesday to guarantee collective bargaining rights by professional firefighters, even in areas where local voters have opposed the idea.

The Democratic bill sets up a revived dispute over public-service unions versus local ordinances that bar certain bargaining procedures. Labor groups say firefighters statewide deserve bargaining rights over things like equipment and working conditions. Local governments insist the measure uses a sympathetic class – firefighters – to open the door to state control over local employment rules.

The bill has fractured Democrats in the past. Four years ago, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed a similar bill after the Democratic Legislature approved it.

It’s still unclear whether current Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper would sign this year’s firefighter measure. The bill now awaits a vote by the full Senate.

“It mandates nothing more than a seat at the table,” argued Colorado Springs firefighter Jeremy Kroto, who testified Wednesday in favor of the measure.

Opposing him was Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, who pointed out that voters in his city have decided three times against collective bargaining for firefighters. Bach was joined by an unusual ally – Boulder Mayor Matthew Applebaum. That city does allow collective bargaining by firefighters.

Applebaum said he opposes the measure because “it takes away the flexibility to make decisions as we see fit for our community.”

The bill’s sponsor and its loudest opponents both said after the committee vote that they’re not sure what Hickenlooper would do with the proposal. The governor’s office has said it’s in talks with both sides and that it’s too soon to say whether Hickenlooper would sign or veto a firefighters’ union measure.

Labor groups had an easier time defeating a Republican-based bill to make Colorado a “right to work” state. The Senate committee that approved the firefighter union bill also rejected that proposal Wednesday, by the same party line 3-2 vote.

Republicans have longed pushed for legislation that bars requirements to join unions as terms of employment. Colorado currently requires elections and approval from 75 percent of workers before a workforce becomes a union shop, and Democrats have resisted calls to change that.

The proposal was defeated with little debate.

LINK: Senate Bill 25

- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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