Democrats rally at Capitol to support public workers labor rights bill opposed by Gov. Polis

By: - February 10, 2022 2:34 pm

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, speaks at a rally in support of legislation to grant public-sector workers collective bargaining rights at the state Capitol on Feb. 10, 2022. (Courtesy of Jim Darling for Public Workers United)

Two top-ranking Democrats in the Colorado General Assembly joined dozens of demonstrators on the steps of the Capitol Thursday to call for legislation that would boost public-sector unions across the state — in the face of opposition from Gov. Jared Polis, who wants major changes to the forthcoming bill.

House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg spoke at a rally organized by Public Workers United, a coalition of labor groups, in support of legislation that would grant collective bargaining rights and other protections to employees of local governments and other public entities like school and fire districts.

“Public employees keep Colorado running,” said Fenberg, who is set to take over leadership of the upper chamber upon Senate President Leroy Garcia’s departure later this month. “They have been on the front lines of some very difficult, challenging years. They helped us through the pandemic. They risked their lives fighting the Marshall Fire. They keep our communities safe. They do their part, now we need to do ours.”


Under current state law, public employees at the local level can form unions but can’t negotiate collectively for an employment contract unless voters or their employer specifically authorize it. The vast majority of Colorado’s 272 municipalities and 178 school districts don’t allow collective bargaining, leaving more than 250,000 workers without basic labor rights, according to Public Workers United.

“Today, firefighters around our great state are still asking to sit down with their city, towns or districts to negotiate their schedules, pay, and safety,” David Foster, president of Colorado Professional Fire Fighters, said at Thursday’s rally. “But they can’t, because they don’t have the local right to collectively bargain.”

Despite the support from leading Democratic lawmakers, the bill, which has yet to be introduced in the Legislature, faces an uncertain path forward amid opposition from Polis. In a statement last month, a spokesperson said the governor would support a “much narrower” bill, but Polis has repeatedly declined to give specifics on what changes he wants to see.

Conservatives and local government groups like the Colorado Municipal League also oppose the bill, which they say would violate provisions in the state Constitution granting broad “home rule” powers to many cities and towns.

In 2020, Democrats passed legislation extending collective bargaining rights to more than 31,000 state employees represented by the union Colorado WINS; Polis signed that bill into law after opposing a previous version that died during the 2019 legislative session. Now, union leaders and top Democrats say it’s time to give local employees the same power.

“All working people deserve a voice in their workplace, full stop. That includes our public workers,” Esgar said Thursday. “Workers deserve a choice, and workers deserve a voice.”


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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.