By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
After vetoing his second bill of the legislative session aimed at strengthening unions in Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter acknowledged Thursday that although it’s never easy to be on the wrong side of your friends, his role as the state’s top dog often requires it.
One day before the expiration of a 30-day window to sign 2009 legislation, Ritter vetoed Senate Bill 180, which would have given firefighters the right to unionize without local government approval. It also would have provided ways for firefighters to unionize in municipalities where residents have voted against collective bargaining for city employees.
“At the end of the day, I had to say ‘no’ to a friend,” Ritter said to reporters in his office Thursday afternoon. “Leadership is oftentimes about having to say ‘no’ to a friend, and that is what the veto of (SB) 180 feels like to me.”
Ritter, who vetoed House Bill 1170 late last month, stopping a legislative action to give unemployment benefits to employees locked out during labor disputes, said his veto of SB 180 was based on three factors:
• Firefighters are already able to seek collective bargaining rights through voter approval in local communities.
• The bill would have overturned the will of voters in communities that have already voted to opt out of collective bargaining.
• Issues of firefighter safety raised by the bill were better addressed on a statewide basis than locally, among the few communities that would have been affected by the legislation.
“I join all Coloradans who honor and value the dangerous work of firefighters in our communities,” Ritter said. “Firefighters have stood with me, and I have stood with them… As the son of a union member, and a former union member myself in earlier years, I have long believed that collective bargaining can create a positive working relationship for public sector employees and local governments.”
Ritter’s move saddened the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Edward Casso, D-Commerce City.
“We have done so much to protect and invest in the workers of Colorado,” Casso said. “Yet, with the veto of SB 180, it seems that we have somehow fallen short of this charge with our firefighters. I am very disappointed.”
Casso also said that Colorado’s working-class families should have the right to fight for better benefits and pay — which the veto will keep some from being able to do.
“When we are talking about firefighters, the law should reflect an absolute fairness in their ability to make a better life for themselves,” Casso said. “Senate Bill 180 only allowed firefighters a seat at the table when it comes to deciding their safety and future.”
But not everyone believed the legislation was going to benefit the state. In addition to fire chiefs statewide, the Colorado Municipal League, which lobbied against the bill, was quick to say they were pleased by the governor’s choice.
“The General Assembly should not tell local voters or local elected officials that they do not have a voice in their local government,” said Sam Mamet, the CML’s executive director. “Local determination of employment practices should never be superseded or overwritten by any General Assembly, and SB 180 was clear in its intent to do so. Eleven of the 24 entities covered by SB 180 have locally approved collective bargaining. Voters in others have considered and rejected collective bargaining but would have had their votes invalidated if SB 180 was forced upon them.”