In criticizing labor bill, Post's Brown ignored repeated GOP efforts to make Colorado a "right-to-work" state

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Denver Post political columnist Fred Brown criticized Colorado Democrats over House Bill 1072, saying it would upset an "elegant compromise" between business and labor. But Brown omitted the fact that state Republican lawmakers have introduced right-to-work legislation to change the same "compromise" measure in at least eight of the last 10 years.

In his February 4 column critical of Democrats for introducing House Bill 1072 , which would amend the Colorado Labor Peace Act (CLPA), Denver Post political analyst Fred Brown characterized the CLPA as a long-standing "elegant compromise" between business and organized labor that "has kept right-to-work at bay" in Colorado. But Brown failed to mention the fact that, as he and other media outlets noted in numerous reports, for at least the last decade, Republicans in the state legislature repeatedly have attacked the CLPA themselves, by introducing right-to-work legislation.

According to Brown's column (an online version appeared February 3), "The most partisan Republican couldn't have devised a better way to embarrass Gov. Bill Ritter than his fellow Democrats have with House Bill 1072. It's a timing and public-relations disaster. The bill would repeal a 63-year-old law that requires a separate vote before union negotiators can seek an 'all-union' clause in employment contracts." Brown also noted, "Supporters of the bill contend it's a 'minor' change merely removing an 'archaic' law that no other state has: 22 states are so-called 'right to work' states, where 'union-only' clauses are barred; 27 states are more labor-friendly." Brown further stated:

Right-to-work sentiment is never far from the surface in Colorado; one pro-business group last week testified it still favors the idea, and if 1072 passes, right-to-work might rise to the top of its priority list.

The state's unique Labor Peace Act, called "an elegant compromise" by more than one witness, has kept right-to-work at bay. But in a state with less than 8 percent union membership, and where there are six Republicans for every five Democrats, a ballot issue to replace HB 1072 with a right-to-work law just might succeed.

However, as the Rocky Mountain News reported on February 6, "Senate and House Democrats blasted" Republican critics of HB 1072 as "hypocrites. They pointed out the GOP has attempted in the last decade to undo the Colorado Labor Peace Act -- the very law they now uphold as a 'sacred cow.' " The article quoted the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jennifer Veiga (D-Denver), as saying, "Certainly, in the 11 years I've served in this legislative body, I have seen right-to-work legislation introduced every year trying to dismantle the Labor Peace Act -- the very act Republicans now seem to embrace as the golden compromise over the last 60 years."

Indeed, a search of the Colorado General Assembly's website reveals that Republicans introduced "right-to-work" legislation that would have dismantled the CLPA in at least eight out of the last 10 years: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003,and 2006.

Furthermore, previous reporting by Brown and other media outlets documented the Republican attempts to make Colorado a right-to-work state and undo the "elegant compromise" Brown described in his February 4 column.

For example, an April 12, 1997, News guest editorial (accessed through the Nexis database) by labor leader James Hansen noted, "The Colorado Senate recently displayed good sense when it again rejected a 'right-to-work' proposal. This was the fourth time in five years that right-to-work was defeated by the Legislature." In an April 28, 1997, Post column (accessed through the Nexis database), Brown noted that the same proposal "already had passed the House by a 40-25 vote" but "died in the Senate on April 4."

Similarly, the Post (accessed through the Nexis database) reported on March 16, 2000, that "[a]n annual legislative ritual was carried out Wednesday as a Senate committee defeated a bill to end mandatory union membership in Colorado." The Post further noted, "The Senate Business Affairs and Labor Committee voted down this year's 'right-to-work' bill on a 6-3 vote." Again, Brown noted in a May 4, 2000, Post column (accessed through the Nexis database) that "a number of measures favored by conservatives failed this year. Among them [was] ... 'right to work' legislation that would bar compulsory union membership."

Finally, in a May 9, 2001, Post column (accessed through the Nexis database), Brown again noted "right-to-work" legislation: "On the next-to-last day [of the legislative session], several controversial measures were laid to rest, including ... HB 1301, a 'right to work' bill prohibiting mandatory union membership as a condition of employment."

From Fred Brown's February 4 Denver Post column, "Union bill's timing terrible":

The most partisan Republican couldn't have devised a better way to embarrass Gov. Bill Ritter than his fellow Democrats have with House Bill 1072. It's a timing and public-relations disaster.

The bill would repeal a 63-year-old law that requires a separate vote before union negotiators can seek an "all-union" clause in employment contracts.

It's hardly the most important issue facing the state, yet it may very well be one of the first bills to reach Ritter's desk.

[...]

Supporters of the bill contend it's a "minor" change merely removing an "archaic" law that no other state has: 22 states are so-called "right to work" states, where "union-only" clauses are barred; 27 states are more labor-friendly.

In Colorado, once a majority of employees has voted to unionize, contract negotiators can't raise the "union-only" issue unless they have the approval of a majority of everyone eligible to vote or 75 percent of the smaller number who actually do vote.

That "supermajority" clause was enacted in 1977, a compromise between a right-to-work Republican legislature and Democratic Gov. Richard Lamm.

Right-to-work sentiment is never far from the surface in Colorado; one pro-business group last week testified it still favors the idea, and if 1072 passes, right-to-work might rise to the top of its priority list.

The state's unique Labor Peace Act, called "an elegant compromise" by more than one witness, has kept right-to-work at bay. But in a state with less than 8 percent union membership, and where there are six Republicans for every five Democrats, a ballot issue to replace HB 1072 with a right-to-work law just might succeed.

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