Even as the strike against King Soopers ended with an anticipated agreement on Friday morning, the contentious fight for comprehensive worker’s rights continues. This time, there’s no picket line – mostly because the workers in question aren’t able to strike.
This lack of worker’s rights has led Pueblo Democrat and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar to set big goals for collective bargaining rights this session. Along with help from Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, she’s aiming to pick up where prior legislation left off, expanding collective bargaining to local public employees.
But not without turning some heads.
There’s something to be said for a serious bill that can stir up such controversy before details have even been finalized, let alone introduced. Gov. Jared Polis is already reported to be against the measure in full, yet another slap in the face to the party he purports to be a part of. Multiple conservatives have also jumped preemptively out of the gate, instantly pledging six-figure sums against it and Democrats in general.
But what “it” is isn’t even really clear, making the early dismissals feel, as is usual as of late, far more about politics than of serving the people of Colorado. It’s a disappointing response to otherwise serious discussions.
Particularly striking is the rhetoric employed in expressing concern, especially by conservatives. For example, Colorado Springs Republican State Sen. Bob Gardner began his preemptive opposition by saying, “They would have extraordinary power,” referring to workers providing local or state services.
But what, exactly, is so wrong with public employees having a powerful seat at the table? We’re talking about teachers, firefighters and nurses. These professionals are experts in their field. Don’t they deserve a say in how things are done and what the job is?
Gardner stated his fear outright. “[The workers could] just walk off the job of providing state services,” he said.
Likely not. Although details of the bill may not be settled, there are already extensive discussions regarding the types of actions public employees – especially those in public safety – could take during negotiations. The ability to strike in traditional fashion would likely not wind up in the bill, rendering these concerns irrelevant.
What may be in play, however, is that ultimately communities would be forced to reckon with the fact that we’ve long undervalued public employees and, in broader strokes, essential workers. We call them essential, but we treat them as expendable. By further extending collective bargaining to sectors of these workers, we will be forced to reconcile our actions with our words – and it’s going to cost us, as it should. It’s almost certainly been costing them.
The fear of workers holding power reminds me a bit of what played out in the recent King Soopers strike. After large numbers of picketers showed up day after day for over a week, the company took to filing with the courts as a means to limit the number of picketers.
Of course, the real issue here isn’t really the picketing. It’s that if you have to legally file paperwork in order to limit the number of picketers against you, you might want to consider why so many people are striking against you in the first place.
Similarly, as a state, we need to take stock.
If things are bad enough that teachers, firefighters and nurses – people who have pledged their entire life to public service – would feel strongly enough that they are willing to risk everything they’ve worked for to improve working conditions, we shouldn’t be worried about giving them a little bit of bargaining power. We should be worrying about the conditions we’ve subjected them to in the first place.
Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.
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