Despite being a leader in the area of marijuana legalization, Colorado might be on the verge of taking a step backward in labor freedom.
The introduction of House Bill 19-1273 in the 2019 session of the Colorado General Assembly would allow state employees to have a union represent a single department or all state workers. Additionally, HB 19-1273 delineates a process for those entities to negotiate contracts over benefits, wages, and work conditions.
If passed, Colorado Public Radio reports that approximately 26,500 workers would gain collective-bargaining rights. This represents an overwhelming majority of the Colorado state government’s “certified workforces”, which are mostly made up of employees in executive branch officers and departments.
Employees of the Colorado state government have sought collective bargaining rights for years. With favorable political winds blowing in 2019—A Democratic trifecta in all chambers of the state legislature—this could finally become a reality this year. Advocates contend that collective bargaining would be a step in the right direction for state workers who have complained about low pay and understaffing at state agencies. Opponents worry, and rightfully so, that public sector unionization would limit the power that legislators and taxpayers have in terms of spending.
With state spending taken out of the hands of legislators, who theoretically can be held accountable by voters, and instead put it in the hands of bureaucrats and arbitrators, this can lead to financially reckless outcomes. A Heritage Foundation study highlighted how public sector monopoly bargaining costs the average family of four up to $3,000 in taxes per year in states that have fully unionized its sector.
States like California have witnessed public sector unions take taxpayers hostage in order to obtain as much government privilege as possible at current and future taxpayers’ expense. Public sector union benefits are at the heart of California’s flimsy pension system. The same Heritage study contends that California could have saved anywhere between $11.6 billion to $24.2 billion in taxpayer dollars had it prohibited collective bargaining in the public sector.
Over the years, Colorado has built a reputation as a state that respects economic freedom. According to the latest Freedom in the 50 States index, Colorado is ranked in 4th place for overall freedom. However, a public sector union bill like HB 19-1273 would go a long way in undermining Colorado’s otherwise pristine economic state. Like burdensome taxation, public sector unions are fixtures of many blue states that are witnessing the capital flight.
The passage of HB 19-1273 could be a Rubicon moment for Colorado as its enactment could lay the groundwork for a litany of anti-growth policies in the years to come.