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Collective bargaining for county employees


Last updated 5/3/2022 at 3:10pm | View PDF

A big bill that hasn't received much public attention but of great interest to your county commissioners, sheriffs and the rest of the county elected officials is SB22-230. With a short title of The Collective Bargaining Bill, 230 gives county employees in 60 of the 64 counties the ability to unionize.

Some of you may be thinking about recent attempts of Starbucks and Amazon workers to unionize and wondering why county employees couldn't hold their own vote to join a union. The short answer is public employees are hired and work under a different set of rules. Their work is considered essential to the health, welfare and public safety of the general public. So even where government employees have unionized, like this bill there is generally a prohibition on striking. Sick outs seem to be a handy work stoppage tactic but not a strike.

This bill had been cussed and discussed in various forms since before the session began. Originally it included higher education, apparently higher ed has more clout with the Governor since it is reported he nixed that idea.

With this title 230 could have included your local water district, every special district and fire department. Home rule towns and cities just like the four home rule counties operate under their own charter but the statutory towns and counties would have been included.

In the end it came down to only counties, despite a provision in the constitution that counties are their own separate entity and cannot be treated like a department of the state government – think CDOT or the Dept. of Revenue.

By the time we finished committee work at 4:00 Friday afternoon 271 amendments had been prepared for SB-230. Several legislators were prepared to speak at length in opposition to the bill and were prepared for it to be daylight sometime Saturday before we would leave the building.

What really happened was the majority party sent word they would like to talk about where compromises could be negotiated. By the time we got back on the floor only 15 or 20 amendments were offered, of which five passed. All made a terrible bill a bit better but the most significant of which recognized the county commissioners' constitutional role as fiduciaries of the county budget and gave them the ability to decline to recognize a vote of the employees to unionize – "if they negotiated in good faith".

Expect legal challenges if it ever gets that far. The other thing to expect is for counties to begin the cumbersome process of gaining home rule status. Those are my predictions if SD230 makes it through the House looking much the same.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on happenings here at the Capitol. Lots of ways to stay in touch; Office phone: 303-866-4877, Mobile phone: 719-351-2121, Email: [email protected], Twitter: @SenDennisHisey, Facebook: Senator Dennis Hisey


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