Friday, May 23, 2008

State workers begin votes to organize

The Denver Post informs us that voting has begun amongst state workers on the issue of union representation,
More than 21,000 state employees, from prison guards to secretaries, will soon vote whether to unionize because of Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order giving public workers collective-bargaining rights.

A coalition of labor groups calling itself Colorado WINS has spent months since the November order courting workers through seminars, mailers and personal contact.

Now five of the state's seven eligible employee categories — representing more than two-thirds of eligible workers — are participating in a mail-in vote that began when ballots were mailed Wednesday, said Dawn Le, spokeswoman for Colorado WINS.

"We're very happy . . . more than 21,000 state employees are in the process of making this choice," said Le, whose group formed in the weeks after Ritter's order.

Results should be in by June 10, and if Le's group succeeds, the election will more than quadruple the unions' 6,000-person membership.

Colorado WINS is a coalition consisting of the Service Employees International Union, the Colorado Education Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

2/3rds participation is a very high number and will lend legitimacy to whatever decision the employees arrive at. My gut tells me that high participation would indicate that the employees are leaning towards recognizing the union coalition as their collective bargainers but that's just a supposition on my part - nothing more.

Either way I am glad to see that employees are being given a choice and an opportunity for their voice to be heard. Instead of letting politicians and activists tell the media and the public what the employees want and need we'll finally be able to hear from the employees themselves.

That the opposition to the vote can muster little more than flacid talking points in protest is a good sign for the future of the labor movement in Colorado. Witness far-right Republican state Senator Shawn Mitchell's half-hearted counter "arguments,"

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, this year sponsored an ill-fated bill that would have dismantled the collective-bargaining provisions. "This is about union dues, union power and skimming state employee paychecks for union dues and political contributions," Mitchell said. "And since state employees have constitutionally protected employment, it raises the question why they need union protection."

Mitchell is one of the very few intellectual shining stars of the right in the entire state. When he can muster little more than a sneering opposition to democracy and tired talking points one has to wonder if the those on the right can muster any serious opposition to the labor movement at all.

Yes, Senator there are some constitutional protections for some state employees but of course you know full well that this organizing is about far more than job protection. Mitchell is so hopelessly locked in the old paradigm of "us" vs. "them" management and employee relations that he cannot recognize how outmoded his thinking is and how the management employee dynamic has changed in the 21st Century. State employees still lack the ability to strike, their biggest arrow in the labor quiver is not available to them. It's clear that the workers of the state of Colorado are not interested in conflict, it appears though that for many on the right they are still obsessed with fighting the battles of the 20th Century.

Creating a working partnership benefits not just the employees of the state of Colorado but also the taxpayers of the state of Colorado, the very people Shawn Mitchell claims to be defending. A more innovative, more efficient and more creative state government will have far reaching ramifications for the quality of services that Coloradans received for their tax dollars.

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