Colorados public workers would get new labor protections under bill

Coloradans who work public-sector jobs in government, school districts, health care and the court system could receive some labor protections under a change to state law proposed by lawmakers this week.

The proposed change would give public-sector workers the rights to discuss workplace issues, participate in the political process while off-duty and out of uniform, and organize, form or join an employee organization. But it wouldn’t require public employers to negotiate with workers.

Introduced Tuesday by Sen. Robert Rodriguez and Rep. Steven Woodrow, both Denver Democrats, SB23-111 would extend protections that private sector workers have had for decades to employees of municipalities, cities, fire authorities, school districts, public universities and the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender.

It’s backed by the Communications Workers of America 7799, a coalition of several unions that represent public defenders, library workers, education employees and health care employees across Colorado. Jade Kelly, president of CWA-7799, said Wednesday that the bill will help workers improve their job conditions by ensuring employers cannot retaliate against workers who raise concerns.

She recounted feeling unsafe in her job at the University of Colorado Boulder several years ago when she asked to have access to a gender-neutral bathroom at work, but was told “such a change might be a security concern,” she said.

“Which obviously gave me a little bit of concern as a trans woman,” she said. “I felt uncomfortable using the male bathroom. When I reached out to my fellow coworkers about it, they obviously wanted to stand in solidarity with me. But I was told that sort of action could result in all of us getting fired, which is honestly scary to hear… I want to make sure that fear, that intimidation doesn’t happen to anyone.”

The bill sets up a system in which the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment would enforce any alleged violation of the new rights, and would allow for employers or workers to appeal the department’s decisions to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The effort follows a change to state law last year that gave government employees in more than half of Colorado’s counties the right to unionize and collectively bargain over pay, benefits and working conditions. That bill initially included a much larger swath of public-sector employees, but was cut down as it went through the legislative process.

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