Right To Work and the Colorado Labor Peace Act: How Politics Trumped Policy

Source: Raymond L. Hogler, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 58, No. 2, Summer 2007

In early 2007, the Colorado legislature passed a bill to modify Colorado’s Labor Peace Act (the CLPA). This statute contains a feature found nowhere else in American labor law. It requires that if a union wins certification under the federal National Labor Relations Act, the union must also prevail in a state secret ballot election before it can legally propose a union security clause in the collective bargaining agreement. The voting requirement is unusual in that it requires at least a three-quarters majority of eligible voters in the bargaining unit. The proposed modification, HB 1072, would have eliminated the second election and moved Colorado to the status of a union security state rather than a “modified” right to work state. Business groups in the state mobilized an intense political campaign against the bill. The bill was passed by both the House and the Senate. Governor Ritter, who had received strong support from organized labor during his campaign and had indicated that the change would be acceptable, exercised his veto power to kill the legislation. This article examines the event from the perspective of right to work laws generally and as an exemplary case study of ideology and symbolism as they impact American workers. Right to work laws frustrate, rather than protect, the interests of workers in their collective well-being, and there is no credible evidence to support the claim that union security negatively affects a state’s economic development. What the Colorado experience demonstrates, with remarkable clarity, is that rhetoric, power, and partisanship continue to dominate labor policy in this country. That fact has profound implications fro the organized labor movement.

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