Wednesday, January 23, 2008

GOP Attacks on Ritter Union Order Underway

Republican lawmakers, who promised to try to nullify Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order allowing government employees to collectively bargain for certain workplace conditions, have filed bills that would reverse the order and ban strikes by state employees.

SB 86, which is sponsored by Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, would prohibit altogether the "employee partnership agreements" authorized by Ritter's order. That bill has been assigned to the State, Veterans & Military Affairs committee, where the likelihood of it surviving for a trip to the Senate floor is slim. Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, chairs the committee, with Chris Romer of Denver and Sue Windels of Arvada the other Democrats.

Mitchell's bill is sponsored in the House by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.

Over in the House Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, introduced HB 1187, which would ban strikes by public employees. Moreover, it would prohibit any public employee, which includes people working for cities and towns, counties, school districts, special district or municipal, quasi-municipal or public corporation, from "directly or indirectly inducing, instigating, encouraging, authorizing, ratifying or participating in a strike."

The bill also provides that any public employer, which includes the above-listed entities, is not to "authorize, consent to or condone" a strike or "pay or agree to pay any public employee during any day in which a public employee participates in a strike."

The bill grants district courts the authority to enjoin strikes or "threatened" strikes and subjects employees who violate the court order to punishment for felony contempt of court, including a period in which they would be banned from public employment. It also directs school boards to move immediately to fire teachers who continue striking, or planning for a strike, in defiance of a court order.

HB 1187 has drawn co-sponsorship from 22 other House Republicans. It is sponsored in the Senate by Nancy Spence of Centennial, with co-sponsorship from every other GOP Senator except Steve Ward of Littleton, who is serving on activy duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq.

Gardner's bill is not the only one on the subject.

Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Fort Collins, has a competing measure that imposes less severe consequences on public employees who involve themselves in a work stoppage.

HB 1189 applies only to employees in the state personnel system. It forbids them from inciting, encouraging or participating in a strike, work stoppage, slowdown or interruption. The bill does not change current law that forbids state government from locking out employees while a labor dispute is ongoing. HB 1189 does not specify penalties for a violation of its prohibition or indicate whether a violation would be criminal in nature and, if so, whether it would be a felony or misdemeanor.

The bills introduced by Gardner and Riesberg have been assigned to the House Business Affairs & Labor committee. Hearings will be held on both bills Thursday, Jan. 24 at 1:30 pm.