Rocky continued following state Senate GOP's lead in labor-discussion coverage

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Echoing an item on the state Republican Senate Minority Office's website, a September 10 Rocky Mountain News article by Chris Barge suggested that the "cost" of giving Colorado state employees collective bargaining rights would be more than the state could afford. A series of earlier News articles repeated the GOP talking point that organized labor-related proposals lawmakers reportedly are discussing would make the state a "union paradise."

Following a series of articles repeating the Republican talking point that organized labor-related proposals Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter reportedly is considering would make Colorado a "union paradise," the Rocky Mountain News on September 10 published another article by reporter Chris Barge that echoed the Republican Senate Minority Office's website, Colorado Senate News. Similar to a September 5 Colorado Senate News item critical of Ritter's "pending deal with unions," the News cited a July 1 Seattle Times article about recent wage increases for Washington state employees to imply that extending collective bargaining rights to state employees in Colorado would be too expensive for the state's budget.

The News article reported that "Colorado state employees earn about 25 percent more than their counterparts in neighboring states" before asking, "So why is Gov. Bill Ritter's office hosting a working group on 'partnership legislation' that unions hope will include collective bargaining?" The article pointed to "a vast philosophical chasm between pro-union Democrats and union-averse Republicans" before stating, "Follow the money, as they say, and the answer also points to the fact that unions pay big bucks to get Democrats elected." The News article, however, failed to similarly note any major Republican fundraising sources that might be opposed to collective bargaining for state employees.

Echoing state Senate Republicans, Barge's article asked "at what cost" Colorado might allow collective bargaining with state employees unions, before citing the Times' report of Washington state's payroll costing "almost $1.6 billion in state, federal and other funds over the next two years."

From the September 10 Rocky Mountain News article "Hardly of a collective mind," by Chris Barge:

Colorado is one of only 10 states in the country without a law addressing collective bargaining for state employees. With the governor's office and both houses of the legislature now under Democratic control, it's a ripe target for unions.

New Mexico's Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson reinstated collective bargaining for state employees in 2003 and believes it is making government there more efficient.

"If management always says, 'Management's right, and employees are wrong,' management is missing a whole big part of the story," said Brian Condit, Richardson's deputy chief of staff. "It's a lot easier to troubleshoot problems if you have an agreed-upon structure."

But at what cost?

Washington state employees are getting the biggest raises they have seen in decades thanks to new contracts negotiated by Gov. Christine Gregoire's office and approved by a legislature controlled by fellow Democrats, The Seattle Times reported in July.

Salary and benefit increases for the state's 110,000 workers will cost almost $1.6 billion in state, federal and other funds over the next two years, the Times reported.

The SEIU and Ritter's office argue that nothing close to that will happen in Colorado, mostly because state workers here, unlike in Washington, are already paid well.

And the budget is lean here, compared with a surplus in the billions of dollars in Washington, the union says.

As the September 5 Colorado Senate News article asserted, "Washington's state government imposed the same policy in 2004 that the Ritter administration is now pushing in Colorado -- letting unions collectively bargain for wages and benefits of state employees -- and that state's payroll spending soared as union ranks swelled." The Senate GOP website's article, titled "Guv's pending deal with unions could cost Coloradans a bundle, data shows," quoted Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany:

The move also led to a backlash among hundreds of Washington state employees who were forced under the new labor contract to join the union and pay dues, pay "agency fees" in lieu of dues -- or lose their jobs. Some employees actually were dismissed.

That's the upshot of Washington's experience after only two fiscal years, as related in a recent report by the Seattle Times newspaper and corroborated by the Olympia, Wash.-based think tank, Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

"Collective bargaining is a shakedown from any angle, not only for the taxpayers who foot the bill but also for the additional state employees who wind up paying dues," said Colorado Senate GOP leader Andy McElhany. "Almost the only ones who come out ahead are the union bosses."

As Colorado Media Matters has noted, Barge's August 28 News article, quoting McElhany as calling on Ritter to "come clean on his promises to big labor," followed by one day a Colorado Senate News online article headlined "Senate GOP calls on guv to 'come clean' on his promises to big labor."

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