Senate gives initial approval to collective bargaining for firefighters

Firefighters work on the garment factory fire. An official said the fabric in the building was making the fire difficult to fight (CNN)

Firefighters work on the garment factory fire. An official said the fabric in the building was making the fire difficult to fight (CNN)

DENVER — The state Senate gave initial approval Monday morning to a proposal that would ensure collective bargaining rights for firefighters.

A final Senate vote on Senate Bill 25 is expected Tuesday before the measure heads to the Democrat-controlled House and, eventually, on to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lois Tochtrop, had the same proposal vetoed in 2009 by Gov. Bill Ritter. She knows this year’s version won’t be an easy call for Gov. John Hickenlooper, a moderate Democrat and former entrepreneur who often talks about his effort to brand Colorado as “the most pro-business state in the country.”

“We’re in talks with the governor’s office now,” Tochtrop said after the Senate’s voice vote on Monday.

Specifically, her bill would allow firefighters to join a union and engage in collective bargaining for the purposes of bringing up concerns about safety.

The bill includes a provision to prevent firefighters from striking.

“It gives them the ability to sit at the table,” Tochtrop told FOX31 Denver. “It does not allow them to address compensation. Each city, municipality only has so much money, so they’re not going to go in and be able to ask for more money.”

Republican lawmakers dismissed that idea and worried that the bill will impact the budgets of municipalities across the state.

“Municipalities have rejected this across the state,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. “It’s very clear if you look at states and cities that are dominated by public employee unions, the cost of government goes up dramatically.

“You’ve got to balance the resources you have. If you unionize fire districts, you will have less resources to fight fires.”