Labor offers olive branch

Two ballot measures pulled, four still remain

By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

In a surprise move Wednesday afternoon, leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7 announced they will pull two of their four ballot measures designed to combat Amendment 47, the business-backed right-to-work measure that would cripple Colorado unions if approved by voters.

UFCW Local 7 President Ernest Duran Jr. said in a statement that the move was made in a “spirit of negotiation” with Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, who both have urged labor leaders as well as Amendment 47 backers to pull all their initiatives because they endanger Colorado’s economy.

The two ballot measures pulled by the UFCW would have required employers to provide employees with cost-of-living-index pay raises and would have raised commercial property rates by 5 percent.

“We have been in communication with Governor Ritter and Congressman Perlmutter in an attempt to remove Amendment 47 from the ballot,” Duran said. “I have told Governor Ritter and Congressman Perlmutter that we are removing two of our ballot measures immediately. It is my hope that the (Denver Metro) Chamber (of Commerce) Board will appreciate our willingness to act.”

The Denver Chamber’s board also voted Thursday to oppose Amendment 47, and Duran, fully expecting such an outcome, praised the board in advance for their position.

The two remaining ballot measures from the UFCW would require employers to provide a safe workplace for employees and would require health benefits be provided by any company with more than 20 workers.

Protect Colorado’s Future, a coalition that includes the Colorado AFL-CIO, is also pushing two initiatives that would require just cause before terminating any employee and also ramp up penalties on corporate executives who commit fraud.

Denver Metro Chamber President and CEO Joe Blake praised the UFCW for removing two of their ballot measures, which he referred to as “economy killers.”

“I am delighted that the UFCW Local 7 has taken the first step away from mutually assured destruction and toward a return to the strong relationship that business and organized labor have enjoyed for decades,” Blake said. “Together, labor and business passed FasTracks and Referendum C, and by working together we can continue to change Colorado’s business climate for the better.”

But a campaign instigated by the Chamber to combat all of the combined union measures, named Coloradans for Responsible Reform, will remain active until all the ballot measures are pulled, said Denver Chamber communications director Kate Horle.

And the right-to-work campaign gave no sign this week of acknowledging that the ball is in their court.

“If there are negotiations, I’m not aware of any that have taken place or are planned,” said Kelley Harp, spokesman for A Better Colorado, the right-to-work campaign. “We continue to gain endorsements and supporters, and Amendment 47 will be on the ballot.”

Harp further suggested that Duran was being disingenuous with his claim of good faith, and said, “I would question whether or not it was in the spirit of negotiation. They pulled them because they realize these are bad public policy and they lack the resources to qualify four items for the ballot.

“At this point in the game, it’s pretty tough to get one thing on the ballot, let alone four,” Harp added. “There’s probably a different reason they were pulled, and this is just the PR tactic they’ve pulled.”

Still, Evan Dreyer, spokesman for Ritter, said the UFCW’s decision was a sign of progress.

“It shows some movement in the right direction for the right reasons,” Dreyer said.

John Brackney, president of the South Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said most of his discussions have centered on how to kill the union measures, not how to pass Amendment 47. That alone, he said, might wind up forcing the right-to-work backers to back down.

“(Business owners) can’t stand that they’re going to have to raise millions of dollars this fall to oppose the union initiatives,” Brackney said. “I’ve really just not heard any momentum for right-to-work. If you don’t have money, if you don’t have energy and passion. Then, even if (Amendment 47) was on the ballot, it would go down, because the unions are fighting it.”

Brackney, who has joined with other political and business leaders to call for a truce, said he’s grown more hopeful because of the UFCW’s decision to pull two initiatives, and pledged to keep advocating for the withdrawal of Amendment 47.

He estimated, however, that there’s still an “80 percent chance that business and labor are going to war.”

For one thing, a number of business groups, including the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, have declared their support for Amendment 47. Other supporters include the Western Colorado chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, the Grand Junction Area Realtor Association, the Western Colorado Contractors Association, the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs and the Brush Chamber of Commerce.

In addition, a second business-backed campaign dedicated to fighting the union ballot measures announced Thursday that it had secured the support of the Tourism Industry Association of Colorado, the Colorado Retail Council and the Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association. The group, called Defend Our Economy, has already been endorsed by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, as well as other business organizations, but has no direct connection to the Chamber’s campaign, CFRR.

“As voters learn the real impacts of what is in these union-advocated proposals, we expect them to vote ‘no’ in November,” said DOE’s campaign manager, Bill Artist.

Others, however, are still dedicated to keeping the peace. The Metro Mayors Caucus added its voice to the call for political calm last week as Centennial Mayor Randy Pye, who chairs the caucus, announced the circulation of a resolution that would urge A Better Colorado, Protect Colorado’s Future and the UFCW to remove all ballot measures for fear of driving up the cost of business and decimating the job market.

“I have companies that may actually have to leave this state because they couldn’t afford to do business (if the labor measures passed),” Pye said. “If these don’t get pulled off the ballot, this region is in for economic devastation.”

He said that of the caucus’ 38 mayors, roughly 25 were in attendance during the meeting last week when the resolution was suggested, and the agreement was unanimous. But the caucus requires unanimity among its members before it puts forth a position. Therefore, said Pye, the resolution still is circulating.

At least a few on the business side dissent. Thornton Mayor Erik Hansen is among them.

Hansen said he doesn’t believe the caucus, which is, by definition, nonpartisan, should get involved in what he sees as a distinctly partisan issue. Aside from that, he’s a big proponent of direct democracy.

“We ought to let the people decide and vote on these issues. I’ve always been a strong supporter of the people’s right to choose,” Hansen said.

Hansen, a Republican, said he hasn’t taken a position on either Amendment 47 or the union measures, but said he just doesn’t think a handful of Colorado politicians are going to be able to strike an armistice between labor and business.

“It’s been going on for decades and decades, and I don’t think that by us passing a resolution it’s going to be any more peaceful than it was before,” Hansen said.

Hansen is definitely in the minority, however, and other prominent Republicans, such as Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer, support the resolution for the same reasons as Pye and Hickenlooper do.

And Pye said that many of the mayors in the caucus are already taking heat for their stand against the initiatives, though he declined to say who.

“Some have significant pressure from their own parties — they have party affiliation and their parties are putting pressure on them,” he acknowledged.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper alluded to similar dissatisfaction recently during a speech to the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, when he said he knew he was “antagonizing certain friends.”

But, he insisted, his position would be to “just say no” to all of the initiatives if all of them wind up on the ballot this November.