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3 unions organize into giant of labor
Some observers expect the group of public employees to dominate bargaining efforts. By John Ingold
Denver Post
Friday, November 16, 2007

Three of the largest public employee unions in Colorado are joining forces to woo state workers, creating a labor behemoth that some observers believe will dominate the effort to organize state employees.

Calling itself Colorado WINS, the group, announced Thursday, is made up of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees;  the Colorado Association of Public Employees/Service Employees International Union;  and the American Federation of Teachers.

Combined, the three groups already claim about 4,500 active state workers as members and more than 17,000 active members overall in Colorado.

"SEIU and AFSCME are the two 800-pound gorillas," said Colorado State University professor Raymond Hogler, a labor expert.  "If those two have joined forces, I don't think any other union would seriously challenge them."

Thursday's announcement came in the wake of Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order earlier this month granting about 32,000 state workers the right to form bargaining groups.  Prior to the order, state employees were able to join and pay dues to unions, but the groups' bargaining authority was much more limited.

Leaders of Colorado WINS, or Workers for Innovative and New Solutions, said they hope the coalition will provide a unified voice for workers and eliminate some of the competitive scramble expected among various unions for state workers' support in the coming weeks and months.

"Nobody at the state wanted to enter into some kind of labor union battle," said Dave Growley, a member of CAPE/SEIU who works in the state's information technology department.  "The whole idea on this thing is to work together so all of our voices are blended together and we're all on the same page of music."

But state Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, said he thinks such a powerful union will work against the state's best interests and intimidate employees who don't want to unionize.

"A super union would have even more strength and flex," he said.  "And those workers who are not a member of it will have even less of a voice and feel even greater pressure to be forced into the union."

Labor groups looking to represent state workers have already begun distributing fliers and mailings in the hopes of winning support.  In addition to Colorado WINS, leaders of the Colorado Federation of Public Employees and the United Food and Commercial Workers said Thursday that they expect to vie for state workers.

State officials said other unions, such as the Teamsters and the Communications Workers of America, have also expressed interest.

Ritter's spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said state department leaders are currently discussing how to handle union promotion in the workplace.

"The first priority is to maintain the integrity of the workplace, that the people's business is conducted without disruption," Dreyer said.

Hogler, the CSU professor, said the Colorado WINS announcement fits in with two trends in the labor movement.  First, he said, unions are working together more, to eliminate the harmful effects of infighting.  Second, he said, unions are increasingly targeting public employees as organization efforts in private companies -- such as Wal-Mart -- become more difficult.

"They concentrate on public employees because they're more responsive to unionization," Hogler said.  But, Hogler cautions, this doesn't mean an organized state workforce is a guarantee.

Under Ritter's executive order, 30 percent of employees in any of eight occupational categories must first petition for representation by a particular labor organization.  The units will then hold elections, and a particular union must get more than 50 percent of the vote to be the designated representative for the category.

Employees will always have the option of voting for no representation.

"In Colorado, I believe there are a lot of individualists," Hogler said.  "They may not want representation by anyone.  So it's a contest for hearts and minds."

John Ingold: 303-954-1068 or jingold@denverpost.com

http://www.denverpost.com/ci_7476394