Colo. Senate supports firefighter union rights

Guv may veto bill

DENVER – The Legislature has approved unionization rights for firefighters, setting up a possible veto by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Senate Bill 25 allows firefighters to form a union and negotiate with management about working conditions. But they would need voter approval to collectively bargain about their salary.

Hickenlooper told Colorado Public Radio on Friday that he’s considering a veto. He said he knows firefighters play a crucial role for the state, but he has pledged not to meddle in local affairs.

“We’ve come short of saying the state should overrule local communities in terms of what it would take to get to more formal negotiations,” Hickenlooper said.

The bill was changed slightly Friday morning, but it’s unclear if it was amended enough to convince the governor to sign it.

“The last version I saw did not meet muster,” Hickenlooper said.

Under the bill, firefighters who wanted to unionize could put the question on a city ballot by getting 5 percent of the voters to sign a petition. A last-minute change Friday morning raised the petition requirements for cities that already have a higher number of signatures required in their charter.

But the Colorado Municipal League, which has opposed the bill all year, said the changes were too small to make a difference.

The House gave final approval to the bill Friday afternoon on a 35-24 vote. Rep. Mike McLachlan of Durango voted with all other Democrats but one to pass the bill. Rep. Claire Levy of Boulder was the only Democrat to vote no.

Durango Fire & Rescue Authority Chief Dan Noonan has opposed the bill, and he sent a letter to Hickenlooper and legislators asking them to kill it.

“If this bill was truly about ‘firefighter safety,’ it would include every career, volunteer and government wildland firefighter in the state of Colorado, not just career firefighters. The vast majority of Colorado’s fire service is built upon volunteer firefighters and medics,” Noonan wrote.

He suggested that if the bill is truly about firefighter safety, then a better idea would be to set up a task force to draft new laws for training and equipment.

Business groups also oppose SB 25, believing that firefighters are being used to set the stage for union-friendly bills for other occupations.

The Senate adjourned Friday night without giving final approval to the changes made that morning. Senators will have one last chance Monday to either send the bill to Hickenlooper or ask for a final conference committee.

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