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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks to the media with an update on the Grizzly Creek Fire at the Eagle County Fairgrounds, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Eagle, Colo. Wildfires burning in western Colorado continue to grow in warm, windy weather, fueled by drought conditions. (Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily via AP)

Colorado’s roughly 30,000 state workers are slated to get pay raises in each of the next three years under a labor agreement signed Thursday morning by Gov. Jared Polis and the union representing state employees

Polis said the benefits guaranteed in the agreement with Colorado WINS will help “ensure that we can attract great people to our state workforce to do the work of the public for Colorado, everything from guarding our prisons, to clearing our roads to processing our taxes.”

The contract was a requirement under House Bill 1153, which when it passed in 2020 gave state workers collective bargaining rights and required the state to negotiate a three-year partnership agreement with Colorado WINS.

The pay raises alone would cost $71 million next fiscal year, with the broader cost of the contract tabulated at $115 million. The raises would increase pay by 3% each year and apply to all state employees.

The agreement signed Thursday also sets a minimum wage of $15 an hour for all state workers and provides them with up to 20 days of paid family and medical leave each year. It would also create a tuition reimbursement program for employees, among other provisions.

The General Assembly needs to approve funding for the deal. If state lawmakers refuse to fund any part of the agreement, or make changes to terms that require funding, either the state or Colorado WINS can reopen negotiations.

“There’s so much in here that is going to really change the game for state employees,” Colorado WINS Executive Director Hilary Glasgow told The Colorado Sun. “When your staff is happy, and you can recruit and retain good people, that comes out into the services that they provide Colorado citizens.”

Glasgow celebrated provisions in the agreement to address pay equity in the state’s workforce. She said the state’s workforce has a “racial pay gap” problem, and noted the agreement would allow the union to reopen pay negotiations after the conclusion of a pay equity study.

Both the state and Colorado WINS agreed to pursue separate legislation and $500,000 in funding for the pay equity study, which would be overseen by the Department of Personnel and Administration. 

They’ll also seek legislation and $2.5 million in annual funding to establish an Equity Office within DPA that would have 10 employees. Additionally, the bill would create nine other positions in state government aimed at enforcing the state’s equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Charmayne Phillips, who has worked as a Colorado home care provider for the past 25 years, voiced her concerns at the news conference about equity problems that have plagued the state’s workforce for decades. 

“Too many of us struggle to provide for our own families,” Phillips said. “This is because of long-standing racism and sexism. Because the majority of people who do this work across the country are women of color, we have long been underpaid and undervalued and overlooked.”

Phillips said that after years of organizing, “elected leaders and Gov. Polis heard our calls and passed a $15 an hour minimum wage for care workers.”

Daniel Ducassi is a former Colorado Sun staff writer.