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HB 1072 attacks individual workers' rights

By Benjamin DeGrow

A controversial legislative proposal debated this week in the State Senate clearly attacks the rights of individual workers.

Having won approval in the House chamber, union leaders and their legislative supporters appear poised to rob non-union employees of the simple opportunity to vote before their paychecks can be raided. House Bill 1072 would remove a vital protection in the Colorado Labor Peace Act.

Current law says employees vote once to elect a union to represent them, with majority support needed from those actually voting. HB 1072 would eliminate an additional special election requiring more than 50 percent of all affected union members and non-members to agree before any one of them can be forced to pay dues or fees to the union.

Under HB 1072, a minority in the workplace could compel other employees to finance an organization that may violate conscience or inadequately represent their interests. Even union members would be forced to choose between their support for workplace representation and their desire to defend a dissenting co-worker’s conscience.

Simply put, HB 1072 means less choice for all workers.

The political forces behind the bill have sought to push it through quickly, allowing little time to debate a major change in a 60-year-old law. The rhetoric and arguments of its defenders clarify why they have tried to limit public scrutiny.

Rep. Michael Garcia (D – Aurora), sponsor of HB 1072, described the provision his bill would eliminate as “archaic.” Apparently, forcing an individual to choose between his job and his conscience is a more modern approach.

Garcia and union leaders also have argued that HB 1072 is essential because it removes government involvement from a private negotiating process.

Even so, any negotiating process that gives two parties the authority to take money from a third party has great potential to inflict harm. The second election in the Labor Peace Act helps to ensure that an employer and a union cannot enter such negotiations too easily.

As a last-ditch argument to justify the need for HB 1072, labor leaders have complained about various efforts businesses take to prevent unionization.

But I have not seen any specific examples presented of such employer coercion in Colorado. Perhaps that’s because the Labor Peace Act already prohibits the boss from interfering in a worker’s right to decide whether to join or support a union.

Both management and labor have the ability to persuade workers on the union question. While the law absolutely prevents management from forcing workers out of the union, workers can be forced to support the union under the conditions already stated.

Yet even if employers were guilty of coercing workers in one direction, coercing workers in the other direction certainly would not be the solution. Accusing business of anti-union activities is a red herring. The Labor Peace Act already addresses the problem, and HB 1072 does not.

The real problem underlying the bill seems to be the inability of union leadership to win sufficient worker loyalties.

The federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics says that from 2005 to 2006 Colorado added 100,000 jobs but lost 5,000 union members, reducing union workforce density from 8.3 percent to 7.7 percent. Rather than adapt to attract voluntary support from more workers, organized labor has chosen the path of greater coercion.

Written to benefit a narrow interest, HB 1072 is at odds with individual rights and basic fairness.

This article originally appeared in the Pueblo Chieftain on February 4, 2007.