On recent broadcasts, Colorado radio talk show hosts Amy Oliver of 1310 KFKA and George Brauchler of Newsradio 850 KOA spread misinformation about Gov. Bill Ritter's (D) executive order allowing state employee partnerships. Oliver ignored media reports to dismiss Ritter's claim that such partnerships could have helped the state avoid multimillion-dollar computer problems that occurred under Gov. Bill Owens' (R) administration, and she misleadingly suggested the "public didn't really know" about Ritter's support for employee partnerships. Ignoring Ritter's November 2 press release, Brauchler falsely claimed that Ritter connected the executive order to the computer problems only in response to criticism.
On her November 7 show, 1310 KFKA host Amy Oliver derided as "absurd" Gov. Bill Ritter's (D) contention that state employee partnerships allowed under an executive order he issued November 2 might have prevented the state from spending hundreds of millions of dollars on flawed computer systems implemented under Ritter's Republican predecessor, Gov. Bill Owens. However, numerous media reports have quoted state employees and union officials as saying that such partnerships provide a structure for workers to alert managers to potential problems.
Additionally, guest host George Brauchler suggested on the November 6 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The Jon Caldara Show that Ritter connected the employee partnerships to the Owens administration's "computer snafu" only after he had been criticized over the executive order. In fact, Ritter noted the "$300 million in wasted information technology systems" in the November 2 press release announcing the order.
Oliver, who is operations director for the free-market think tank the Independence Institute, also claimed regarding the executive order that while "the unions have been preparing for this for weeks," the "public didn't really know." But as the Rocky Mountain News reported September 14, Ritter explained his thoughts on "employee partnerships" for state workers in a September 13 interview with Newsradio 850 KOA host Mike Rosen.
From the November 7 broadcast of 1310 KFKA's The Amy Oliver Show:
OLIVER: With everything that happened yesterday, want to let you know, governor -- former Governor Bill Owens came out swinging yesterday, at Bill Ritter. Absolutely came out, came after him. Why? Because the Ritter administration made this connection: They claimed that, had the state had collective bargaining under the Owens administration -- in other words, collective bargaining for employees, state employees -- in other words, had the state of Colorado, had their state employees been unionized, the computer problems, the Colorado benefits management system, which cost Colorado taxpayers about $250 million, a flawed computer program, wouldn't have happened if the state had been unionized. I mean, what an absurd connection! Absolutely absurd connection, and for the first time, Bill Owens -- and I know Republicans out there everywhere are thanking, you know, thanking him, because finally, came out absolutely swinging. I heard him on the radio, and he essentially said, "You know what, if Ritter wants to come after me, I'll take him anytime, anywhere." I like this statement. This is a quote. This is what Bill Owens said: "If he" -- meaning Governor Ritter -- "wants to sign an executive order at 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon" -- and I'll add to that, and then get out of town, so he doesn't have to actually face any criticism -- he said, "if he wants to sign an executive order at 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, that's his business." That's what Owens said. "But if he blames it on a computer issue in my administration," then, he says, "that's my business."
And Bill Owens came out swinging yesterday. He said, "You know what, I have left Ritter alone this whole time -- haven't criticized him. But now the Ritter administration is using Bill Owens and a flawed computer system to make the case for their backroom collective bargaining agreement." That's the kind of governor we got right now, and that's the kind of administration we have. Backroom agreements -- and by the way, the unions have been preparing for this for weeks. They knew about it. Funny -- public didn't really know, did we? Legislature not engaged. Business not engaged. Public not engaged. Who was engaged? The labor unions -- who, by the way, greased the pockets of Bill Ritter. Unbelievable.
Oliver's dismissal of a connection between the employee partnerships made possible by Ritter's executive order and the computer system failures that originated in the Owens administration echoed comments that 630 KHOW-AM co-host Craig Silverman made on the November 6 broadcast of The Caplis & Silverman Show. As Colorado Media Matters noted, in news articles published during the preceding week, The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News quoted state information technology workers who stated that a lack of labor-management collaboration -- such as that which could be enabled by Ritter's order -- hindered workers' attempts to warn state officials of the flaws in the computer systems implemented under the Owens administration.
A November 4 Post article quoted one state technology employee as stating specifically that the partnerships give workers "a voice" that they didn't have when they tried to warn managers about the flawed computer systems that date to the Owens administration:
"We didn't have a voice, and now we do," said Bill Cron, an information technology employee for the state Department of Transportation. "I'm ecstatic."
Cron said he tried to speak up about a flawed computer system that cost the state millions of dollars, but he had no "voice at the table."
Another November 4 Post article quoted the president of one union local as making the same specific connection:
Mitch Ackerman, president of Service Employees International Union Local 105, called the partnership with Kaiser [Permanente Colorado] a "21st century model of collective bargaining," a departure from the traditionally adversarial relationship between managers and workers.
Ackerman said the governor's executive order is "a really important step forward" for the state because it will provide a vehicle for employees to offer suggestions for how government can operate more efficiently.
Citing the $300 million the state has spent on failed computer systems, staff time, legal work and other costs related to crashing computers, Ackerman said state employees -- if asked -- could have offered suggestions to prevent such problems.
The News on November 2 quoted another state technology worker as saying that the lack of partnerships such as those enabled by Ritter's executive order hindered their efforts to warn state officials about the massive computer problems:
Unionized employees point to some foiled attempts by fellow workers to alert managers to potential problems with new information technology systems in several departments of state government in recent years.
"When employees raised the flag, it fell on deaf ears," said Dave Growley, a member of the Colorado Association of Public Employees who works in the Colorado Department of Public Administration's IT area.
While Growley and his co-workers have been able to join a union to advocate for them on topics such as health care, he said workers lack any formal representation.
"Right now, you can be part of a union, but you really have no partnership or ongoing relationship with the heads of government to make any difference," he said.
Similarly, a September 10 Post article that reported on the "labor-management partnership" that Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Executive Director Russell George implemented in his department noted that "a computer malfunction that he inherited" led to discussions with union workers. The Post reported that George is "the highest-ranking Republican holdover" from Owens' administration:
For George, listening to workers is a matter of style and circumstance.
"I came with my own experiences of managing of state agencies," George said. "I have always had the philosophy that I want the organization to work as a whole. I didn't want management versus anybody else."
George, the former director of the state Department of Natural Resources, is the highest-ranking Republican holdover from Gov. Bill Owens' administration.
George launched discussions with union workers after a computer malfunction that he inherited messed up workers' paychecks.
When union leaders asked for a meeting, George agreed. As the conversations continued, George said union officials asked about surveying workers. He said they should coordinate that effort with the department's already existing employee council, which includes nonunion members.
Thus was born one of the first "labor-management partnerships" of the Ritter administration.
Further, several news reports that covered Ritter's support of partnership arrangements for state employees in the months before the executive order contradict Oliver's claim that the "public didn't really know" about Ritter's intentions. In fact, the News reported Ritter's intentions on September 14 following the interview that day between Ritter and Rosen:
Gov. Bill Ritter came out Thursday in support of union-backed "employee partnerships" for state employees.
But he said he "may or may not be able to" pull that off without including collective bargaining in the deal.
Ritter offered his first public thoughts on the topic during his monthly radio interview with KOA's conservative talk show host, Mike Rosen.
"This isn't about pay," Ritter said. "This is about a 21st century way of thinking about how you engage employees."
Ritter said that because he has to work within the limits of the budget structure, he won't have the power to give state employees significant raises, whether they have collective bargaining powers or not.
The state will continue to conduct an annual salary survey, which determines average private sector wage increases in a given year and recommends salaries accordingly, Ritter said. That recommendation will continue to be submitted to the legislature's Joint Budget Committee and to the governor's office.
Ultimately, the legislature is in control of state employee salaries, Ritter said.
"I know this causes great concern when people hear and think 'collective bargaining,' and that's what they're thinking, as opposed to finding a way to acknowledge the work of state employees, to take their input, to do things in partnership form that delivers a better service to the taxpayers," Ritter said.
Similarly, the Post reported September 14 (accessed through the Nexis database) on Ritter's "vision for a partnership with state workers":
Gov. Bill Ritter laid out his vision for a partnership with state workers Thursday, saying they deserve a voice at the table after years of neglect.
The governor, under attack by Republicans accusing him of conspiring with unions behind their backs, said he is searching for a "21st-century way" to engage state workers instead of the "archaic," duke-it-out method of collective bargaining.
"This is a new day," Ritter said in an interview. "This issue about employee partnerships has been and is a part of my vision for making government work better."
The governor said he wants to engage state snowplow drivers, road crews, public-college employees and others "in a discussion about how state government should work."
Republicans are hammering the governor for attempting to give state workers the power to collectively bargain for wages, but Ritter said traditional "collective bargaining" isn't in his plans.
An organized partnership with state employees, he said, would not focus solely on salary and benefit issues but allow workers a chance to give input on how to better run state agencies.
As guest host of The Jon Caldara Show on November 6, Brauchler also minimized the Owens administration's responsibility for computer system problems, suggesting that Ritter "invoked the former administration and their ... perceived foibles as it relates to a computer controversy" only "now that the heat has been turned up on this decision by the governor to impose this collective bargaining agreement."
From the November 6 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The Jon Caldara Show, with guest host George Brauchler:
BRAUCHLER: Last night we discussed that I was mistaken in my belief that this was a genius move by the governor to try to cut salaries for state employees, and to cut benefits and reduce PERA [Public Employees' Retirement Association benefits], because [Ritter communications director] Evan Dreyer and the governor had said repeatedly this was just about parity with the private sector. And I took 'em at their word. And seeing that state employees here in Colorado made 5.6 percent more than their counterparts throughout the country, I thought maybe collective bargaining was a way for us to convince them to take less money. That was sarcastic, and some of you out there didn't understand that was sarcastic, and forgive me for not making a "sarcastic" sound in my voice.
But here's what's happened since. Since then, the governor now has through his office, has invoked the former administration and their -- hmm -- perceived foibles as it relates to a computer controversy. And you'll remember this -- there was a computer snafu that took place at the state government level that resulted -- I can't remember, $300 million. It's a lot of money that was involved in this. And now that the heat has been turned up on this decision by the governor to impose this collective bargaining agreement, of course now the excuse given by the governor's office is, "Well, we had to engage in collective bargaining to try to avoid something like that happening again." And if you were paying attention during The Mike Rosen Show today -- aptly and adeptly hosted by Jon Caldara, who I fill in for now -- you got to hear the governor give a rather detailed and lengthy defense not only of what happened, but he threw down the gauntlet.
Contradicting Brauchler's suggestion that Ritter referred to computer problems stemming from the Owens' administration only after being criticized is the November 2 press release Ritter's office issued to announce the executive order:
GOV. RITTER ISSUES EMPLOYEE PARTNERSHIP EXECUTIVE ORDER
Gov. Bill Ritter today issued an executive order allowing employee organizations to establish partnership agreements with the state, bringing managers and employees together to make government more effective and efficient for the public.
"From Day 1, I vowed to make state government more effective, reliable and accountable," Gov. Ritter said. "Already, we have begun to reform the way we do business, in large part by asking state employees for their ideas and input. The Government Efficiency and Management (GEM) Performance Review is a perfect example. We asked employees for their ideas, and they responded by giving us 12,000 of them, many of which will lead to $145 million in savings and benefits over the next five years. Indeed, if state government had been stronger partners with employees in the past, perhaps the state would not be facing $300 million in wasted information technology systems.
"The partnership agreements authorized by this executive order advance that mission because they will better utilize employees' knowledge, skills and ingenuity," Gov. Ritter added. "Employees will be more engaged, more productive and more efficient in how they serve the public. We will have a government that is a model employer for snowplow drivers, prison guards, state troopers and administrative clerks -- a government capable of attracting and retaining the highest-caliber workforce in the country." [emphasis added]
Further, Brauchler's assertion that Ritter's executive order "impose[s] ... collective bargaining" on state workers is highly misleading. As Colorado Media Matters has noted, the executive order does not grant traditional collective bargaining rights. As the press release announcing the executive order explicitly noted: "This order does not require employees to join an employee organization, nor does it require them to pay dues or agency fees if they do not join."
The executive order itself, in fact, contains a section -- Determination of Representation -- outlining the procedures under which state employees have the option but not the requirement to petition and then vote to accept or reject an employee organization as their exclusive representative.
The executive order also explicitly prohibits state personnel from pressuring employees to become members of an employee organization. Further, the executive order bars employee organizations from striking and obtaining binding arbitration, and any fiscal impacts of partnership agreements reached under the executive order are not binding on either the governor or on the legislature.