Hilary Cooper, Beth Melton, Emma Pinter, and Randall Wheelock

On the final day of Colorado’s 2022 legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 230, entitled “Collective Bargaining for Counties.”

We helped to support lengthy negotiations and numerous changes because we believe that collective bargaining is a fundamental right for all workers and we wanted to find a way to make it work for counties. We believe SB 230 strikes the appropriate balance between supporting invaluable county workers while establishing important protections allowing elected county commissioners to exercise their statutory authorities. 

Clockwise from top left: Hilary Cooper, Beth Melton, Randy Wheelock, Emma Pinter

The bill is now on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk and we look forward to his signature.

SB 230 became one of the more controversial bills of the session. The prospect of creating a process to protect the right of workers to choose collective bargaining for themselves caused a lot of debate and a lot of misinformation. Although considerable fact-based testimony was provided during the legislative debates, we feel it is important to share key provisions included in the bill.

Discussions began over a year ago with the concept of providing collective bargaining rights to employees in county and municipal governments, special districts, and public education. After detailed negotiations with labor representatives and other key stakeholders, including Governor Polis, the bill was narrowed to apply only to counties, which act as a branch of the state government, delivering state services, implementing state statute, managing budgets and setting policy at the local level.

Further narrowing occurred during the legislative process. The bill excludes the city-counties of Denver and Broomfield and counties with fewer than 7,500 residents. It also allows home-rule counties to opt out in their charter. If Colorado’s two home-rule counties – Pitkin and Weld – do opt out, the bill will affect 38 of Colorado’s 64 counties, allowing their employees to form a union if they choose.

We believe that the statewide framework for forming or decertifying a union created in SB 230 will provide certainty for counties and employees to allow for a smoother process. 

Key provisions negotiated for counties include: 

  • A secret ballot election to recognize a union, allowing for worker privacy and a familiar election process for counties to administer; 
  • Consolidated Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiation if requested by the county;
  • The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment serving as a neutral third-party administrator to enforce, interpret, apply and administer the provisions of the bill, which removes a significant financial burden from counties and ensures a fair, transparent and accountable process for all parties, including the general public; 
  • And establishment of voluntary union dues for employees.

Most importantly for counties, the bill ensures that boards of county commissioners have the final authority to approve a collective bargaining agreement. Specifically, the bill ensures that a CBA cannot usurp the existing authorities granted to county commissioners to carry out any mission, initiative, task, agenda, policy or program of the county or our authority to manage the county’s budget and finances.

The following is a simplified description of how the collective bargaining process would work at the county level: 

  • At least 30% of employees would file a petition to form a collective bargaining unit (CBU) with the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). 
  • All workers in the proposed CBU would be entitled to vote in a secret ballot election, and if more than 50% of workers approve, the CBU would be certified and collective bargaining agreement negotiations would proceed between the county and the CBU. 
  • If parties approve the agreement, we continue our business of delivering services and determining policy for counties while working to implement the compensation and other agreement terms that support our county employees. If parties cannot agree, a non-binding, mediation-based fact-finding process begins, administered by CDLE. 
  • All aspects that are finally agreed upon between the county and CBU are subject to the budgetary authority of the BOCC.

After extensive stakeholder negotiations for this legislation, we believe that we have secured a strong process for counties while honoring our fundamental belief that county governments should be model employers in our communities, and that includes working environments where workers have a voice in their future and their wellbeing.

We want to thank Sen. Stephen Fenberg, Sen. Dominick Moreno, Rep. Daneya Esgar, Governor Polis and labor representatives who diligently worked with counties and commissioners, acting together to ensure that SB 230 works for county governments and our highly valued county employees. We believe our counties are stronger when everyone’s voice is included.

Hilary Cooper is a San Miguel County commissioner. Beth Melton is a Routt County commissioner. Emma Pinter is an Adams County commissioner. Randy Wheelock is a Clear Creek County commissioner.

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