As expected yesterday, Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed SB 180, which would have given collective bargaining rights to firefighters.
We’ve already written about what a mistake this veto was politically, and Ritter’s second veto of a bill backed by labor unions and Democrats in the legislature continues to draw the ire of a wide range of Democrats who say they had no warning that a veto would happen when the bill was being discussed in the legislature. For his part, Ritter has been trying to play up his labor union bonafides despite his second veto in the last three weeks. According to a press release from the Governor:
“I join all Coloradans who honor and value the dangerous work of firefighters in our communities,” Gov. Ritter said at a Capitol news conference this afternoon. “Firefighters have stood with me, and I have stood with them, including yesterday in Montrose when I signed three bills to help volunteer and wildland firefighters; last year when I fought hard to defeat the right-to-work and other harmful ballot initiatives; and in 2007 when I signed legislation, over the strong objection of local government and others, expanding eligibility for workers’ compensation coverage for firefighters suffering from cancer.”
“As the son of a union member, and a former union member myself in earlier years, I have long believed that collective bargaining can create a positive working relationship for public sector employees and local governments,” Gov. Ritter said, citing three main reasons for the veto
Ritter’s veto was immediately condemned by the sponsor of the bill, Democratic Rep. Edward Casso:
I am disappointed that the Governor chose to veto Senate Bill 180. I believe that this bill would give our local firefighters — our heroes — a better opportunity to negotiate for improved safety equipment and other vital benefits.
We will continue to work together to expand opportunity for all Coloradans including our critical emergency services personnel.
Working class families are just that; working class families. I don’t think that it should matter if they are union members or not. When we are talking firefighters, the law should reflect an absolute fairness in their ability to make a better life for themselves. Senate Bill 180 only allowed firefighters a seat at the table when it comes to deciding their safety and future.
Firefighters who choose to organize should have the ability to do so. There should not be procedural, administrative, or municipal regulations that forbid two sides from coming together for the betterment of the community.
We respect home rule and the preservation of local control at the municipal level. However, when local jurisdiction gets in the way of what is right or fair, I feel that there indeed is a compelling statewide interest in leveling the playing field, especially when it comes to our first-responders like our firefighters.
Senate Bill 180 had significant guardrails built into the framework of the legislation that would have guaranteed fair and stable negotiations. SB 180 had an explicit no-strike clause, there was no binding arbitration, and all impasses would require a vote of the people paid for by the entity that refused concession.
We have done so much to protect and invest in the workers of Colorado. Yet, with the veto of SB 180, it seems that we have somehow fallen short of this charge with our firefighters. I am very disappointed.
Ritter’s veto was a front-page story in today’s Denver Post, and the Governor saw fit to call into The Jay Marvin Show this morning to defend the veto. This was all preventable, because it never should have come to this.
This story continues to generate bad press for Ritter and angry reactions among union members (including the firefighters, who continue to say that Ritter had promised them he would sign a bill like this), but more importantly, Ritter’s second veto of a bill passed by the Democrats in the legislature has moved beyond being just a union vs. business issue. This has now become a widely-discussed topic among all Democrats, most of whom aren’t as concerned about the nature of the bills that were vetoed, but rather, about what the veto process says about Ritter as governor. The increasingly common refrain goes something like this: “Why is a Democratic governor vetoing bills that Democrats passed in the legislature?”
And that, dear readers, is the real point here. Democrats in the legislature have spoken out already — including Speaker Terrance Carroll — about the fact that they never got word from the Governor that these bills would be vetoed. If Ritter didn’t like something about the bills, he could have easily asked for them to be changed when they were still being discussed in committee. But by waiting until the bills were already passed to veto them (something he did in his first two legislative sessions as well), Ritter has created an animosity between other Democrats that was entirely unnecessary (note Rep. Casso’s strongly-worded objections). Ritter might have been able to weather animosity from strong labor union advocates, but his own actions have moved it into a broader sphere of criticism.
Also problematic for Ritter is that he has just one more legislative session before re-election in order to try to heal some of these wounds…but it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to pass meaningful legislation in a big election year. Ritter and his campaign folks have backed him into a corner with Democrats, with very little room to get out of trouble before the blows start raining in.