Nov 042007
 
Authors: Sean Reed

Friday marked a huge step backwards for conservative ideals in the state of Colorado.

On Friday at about 3 p.m., Governor Bill Ritter issued Executive Order D-027-07, which extended formal recognition of state employees’ right to unionize. This order is especially momentous as this is the first time in state history that this basic right has been extended to state workers.

Specifically, the order enables nearly 50,000 Colorado workers the right to vote via secret ballot to allow one union to represent them in work-related negotiations. It also contains a provision allowing the Department of Labor to appoint an independent third party if a “partnership agreement” cannot be reached during negotiations.

However, the order also places some limitations on workers.

Unionized workers are specifically prohibited from striking and whatever union is chosen to represent employees may not collect agency fees from workers that choose not to participate.

The order, while empowering employees to take a more active role, will still leave the majority of power in the executive branch’s hands, as agreements reached will be nonbinding.

According to the Denver Post, this move raised some hackles in the capitol, particularly within the GOP ranks.

Their grievances circle around questions of the ethics of circumventing the legislature and the dangers of allowing unions a toehold within state offices.

Opponents have also questioned the necessity of the move, citing the fact that Colorado employees are relatively well compensated for their work as compared with employees of other states. According to the Rocky Mountain News, Colorado state workers’ salaries are the ninth highest in the nation.

These critics, however, are missing the point.

This measure was not intended solely as a forum for workers to garner higher salaries and better benefits.

Instead, Ritter signed this order as a way to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government offices.

As anyone who has been to the DMV recently can attest to, morale in government offices tends to be rather low and lines are always long. These offices, meant to aid Colorado residents become major headaches and the source of endless complaints.

What Gov. Ritter has done is give those who know best the problems within state offices, a venue through which they can address these issues.

The end result of this type of partnership will be something the Republicans in both state and federal government are constantly crowing about – increased government accountability and efficiency.

Of course, Republicans have pointed to the fact that Ritter’s provision allowing workers to discuss with management “issues of mutual concern to the employees and the state” is extremely broad and allows supposedly pampered state employees to argue for higher wages and benefits, which makes the act dangerous to state interests.

This argument is irrelevant.

The ban on binding arbitration means the state never has to subvert its interests for those of the workers.

The only real grievance the good men and women in the GOP may have is the way in which Ritter’s order cut the legislators out of the game.

According to the Denver Post, Ritter said he felt justified to take action because “stated employees operated within the purview of the executive branch.”

On the other hand, many legislators, mostly Republicans, feel the governor has overstepped his bounds.

I’m not sure who’s right on this one.

However, I do applaud the governor for sticking to his guns and doing what he thinks is right.

For far too long, the workers of Colorado have had their voices silenced. Let’s hope Gov. Ritter is right, and they use them responsibly.

Sean Reed is a junior political science major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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