Republicans Vow To Try To Overturn Ritter Union Order

Order Allows State Workers To Join Unions If They Don't Strike

Republican lawmakers said Tuesday they will try to overturn Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order granting state workers the right to join unions, but they acknowledged they may not be able to muster the votes.

The GOP denounced Ritter for a second straight day, with Sen. Shawn Mitchell accusing him of "paying off labor bosses."

"This is a naked political abuse," said Mitchell, of Broomfield. "It smells so bad he was afraid even to submit it to the Democratic Legislature."

"State employees shouldn't need labor boss protection to get a fair shake from 'The Man'. Bill Ritter is 'The Man,'" Mitchell said. "But I understand what's motivating the union here. They've paid a lot for this government and their wanting a return on their investment."

"The governor's edict also, for the first time, raises the very real specter of strikes by our state employees," said State Rep. Bob Gardner (R) Colorado Springs.

Republicans say state employees have always had the ability to strike, but with union involvement, there is a greater chance that could happen.

"This governor has an obvious affinity for unilateral executive action. Somewhere, Dick Cheney is smiling," said State Sen. Josh Penry (R) Grand Junction.

"Did he read the same thing? Or is it the same message? I mean, nobody's talking strike. Nobody's talking about increased benefits or increased wages. We're talking about making recommendations for improvement, increasing productivity," said Greg Goldman, an accountant at the Department of Human Services.

Democratic leaders first laughed at their counterparts, who had gathered on the west steps Tuesday afternoon to make their point public.

"It sounds like a Halloween stunt. Or maybe an election year stunt. But it bears no relationship to reality," said House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver. "This is ridiculous. And I think it's irresponsible, frankly, for folks to demonize the governor or use these kinds of characterizatins which are wholly out of bounds. ... I think the governor's acting fully within his responsibility to improve the efficiency of state government."

The governor's order, issued Friday, allows the 49,000 state government employees to organize but says their unions and associations would have to agree not to strike.

GOP lawmakers said they will introduce a bill to repeal the executive order and another to bar state employees from striking.

House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said Republicans realize it will be difficult to get the legislation passed because Democrats control both the House and Senate, but he's hoping to find some Democrats who will refuse to back Ritter.

Democrats control the House 40-25 and the Senate 20-15.

Ritter's spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said Ritter would sign a bill that bars state workers from striking.

"We don't think legislation is necessary, but if a no strike bill passes the Legislature, the governor would support it," Dreyer said.

Jo Romero, president of the Colorado Federation of Public Employees, which represents state employees, said she believes state workers would still have the right to strike under the National Labor Relations Act and a state Supreme Court ruling in 1992 that upheld the right of Colorado's public employees to strike.

Ritter has said he issued the executive order because it allows him flexibility "to effectively and efficiently manage state government." He said it would be easier to change the order than to pass a new law if changes are needed.

He said his plan allows employees to work with managers to make government more effective. He called it a partnership, not collective bargaining.

Anticipating objections, Ritter said the order doesn't require employees to join a union or force them to pay dues if they decide against joining.

Romanoff said Republicans supported a bill that became law in 2004 that encouraged state employees to work with managers to improve government efficiency.

"If the governor was asking the Legislature to give up its powers to balance the budget, it would be of concern to me. That's not what we're hearing," Romanoff said.

Under current law, state employees can join unions, but the unions act more as lobbying firms than collective bargainers.

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