Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ritter Breaks Campaign Promise - Vetos SB180

Denver, CO – Today, Governor Ritter vetoed Senate Bill 180 breaking a campaign promise to support collective bargaining rights across the State for fire fighters.

"Governor Ritter has let us down tremendously today. We work in inherently dangerous jobs and today the Governor failed to let us have a seat at the table to make our jobs less dangerous," began Mark Rogers a fire fighter from Littleton which has an established union but does not have collective bargaining rights.

Governor Ritter while campaigning for Governor in 2006 met with the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters during their state meeting. During the meeting Ritter promised to support state-wide collective bargaining for fire fighters.

September 11, 2008 the fire fighters again met with Governor Ritter to discuss the concept that would become Senate bill 180. At that time the Governor asked the fire fighters to work with the Colorado Municipal League (CML) on the bill. The CML said they weren't interested in working on the bill they just wanted it killed. That was the last the fire fighters ever heard from the Governor on Senate bill 180 until after the session had completed.

"Governor Ritter has not had any conversations with the fire fighters concerning Senate bill 180 between a September 2008 meeting and the end of the 2009 legislative session. We had no idea he still had concerns with the bill or was planning on vetoing the bill. We are very dissatisfied with the level of leadership the Governor's office has shown on this issue. If he had problems with the bill he should have brought the various sides together and worked towards a compromise," stated Randy Atkinson, President of the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters.

The Fire Fighter and Law Enforcement Officer Collective Bargaining Act (SB180) would have helped local governmental agencies and public safety personnel come together to address and solve workplace challenges in a cooperative and productive manner, promoting more effective and efficient delivery of emergency services during times of both economic difficulties and prosperity. Senate bill 180 did not create unionized fire districts, many are already unionized. Senate bill 180 simply allowed for collective bargaining to occur if the local fire fighters wanted it. If the relationship was as good as several chiefs testified to during committee testimony then the local fire fighters would not have to initiate collective bargaining.

Fire fighters want the ability to work with their employers to obtain the safest equipment possible. There is a difference between a $20 helmet and a $1,000 helmet and most fire fighters are willing to give up wage increases to make sure they are able to come home to their families after every shift. This isn't about increased wages and benefits but making sure our municipalities are spending their limited resources the best way possible – which many times means forgoing raises in order to get safer equipment or choosing to increase health and wellness programs instead of salaries.

In SB 180, there were also local mechanisms for solving disputes should the bargaining representatives reach an impasse. The Fire Fighter and Law Enforcement Officer Collective Bargaining Act specifically prohibited strikes. Instead, it created an advisory fact-finder system that brings the parties together to resolve disagreements over workplace issues. In the event that either of the parties are unwilling to accept the fact-finder's determinations, this bill placed the ultimate decision of whether to adopt either of the parties' proposals in the hands of the people: the voters in the municipality or fire protection district.

Senate bill 180 was designed to encourage voluntary agreements to prohibit unnecessarily prolonged negotiations and to fit within the budgeting requirements of local jurisdictions. 33 other states across the nation have state-wide collective bargaining rights.

"One of the misconceptions about Senate bill 180 is that it would usurpe local control or violate home rule. This is simply untrue. The Colorado Supreme Court has already ruled that collective bargaining is a matter of statewide concern," stated Tom Buescher, attorney for the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters.


Below are fire fighters from around the State that are willing to speak to the media. Please call Lynea Hansen at (303) 579-8794 to connect with these individuals.

Also attached is a handout that was given to the Governor when the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters met with him to encourage him to sign Senate bill 180.


Colorado Springs, Mike Smaldino
Grand Junction, Kevin Kuhlman 

Fort Collins, Ron Simms