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Colorado legislature passes historic collective bargaining bill

Photo credit: Brad McGinley
Colorado legislature passes historic collective bargaining bill
By Nick Voutsinos ·
Colorado legislature passes historic collective bargaining bill
Josette Jaramillo

Landmark legislation that would give more than 36,000 essential county workers across Colorado collective bargaining rights is on its way to Gov. Jared Polis for his expected signature into law.

The Colorado legislature this week approved the bill, which would double the number of public service workers across the state who can negotiate for better working conditions and protections.

This bill, SB22-230, marks one of the nation’s largest expansions of collective bargaining rights to public employees in recent years.

It applies to child welfare workers, transportation workers, water treatment employees, emergency service workers, electoral workers, public safety workers, and all essential county personnel who keep Colorado’s communities running.

Once the measure becomes law, these essential public service workers will finally have the same, basic labor rights that Colorado state workers already enjoy – the right to join with their co-workers in unions without fear of employer retaliation to negotiate over wages, benefits and working conditions.

“Being a county worker for the past 17 years, I can tell you that my co-workers and I know better than anyone what we need on the front lines in order to provide the best public services possible,” said Josette Jaramillo, a child welfare worker for Pueblo County, president of AFSCME Local 1335 (Council 18) and president of the Colorado AFL-CIO. “With this bill, and with the protections that come with it, county workers can finally make their voices heard on key workplace issues without fear.”

Connie Derr, executive director of Council 18 and an AFSCME vice president, hailed the bill’s passage as a huge step forward for Colorado public employees.

“With the passage of this bill, over 36,000 public employees will now have the basic right to collectively bargain,” said Derr. “Across the country in recent months, workers have been standing up for dignity and respect on the job. Now, county employees – who are critical to keeping Colorado’s communities running and strong – have the right to do so as well. This is a huge step forward for public workers everywhere.”

Prior to the passage of this bill, only four of Colorado’s 64 counties granted their essential public service workers collective bargaining rights. Adams County was one of those counties — workers there have had a seat at the table with management since 2019 and have since seen vast improvements in workplace safety and protections.

“Thankfully, our county commissioners respect us – and they wanted to work with us, rather than ignore us,” said Heather Burke, an Adams County child welfare worker and president of AFSCME Local 3927 (Council 18). “But not every county worker in the state has been so lucky. Now, with SB22-230, they can have a seat at the table. And with this seat, they will be able to win basic workplace protections, just like we did.”

With collective bargaining rights, Adams County child welfare workers partnered with management to develop solutions to serious safety issues. As a result, workers now have work phones, so clients are no longer calling them on their personal lines, as well as panic buttons and armed security at their office.

“Collaboration has always been the ultimate goal of our union,” said Burke. “We never wanted to work against management, rather, we want to work with them so we can deliver the best services possible.”

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