by Pam Zubeck
Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed a bill that enables fire fighters to discuss working conditions with management, sending Mayor Steve Bach into a rant.
The State government's decision via Senate Bill 13-025, which Governor Hickenlooper just signed, to impose potential fire fighter collective bargaining on Colorado Springs is deeply disappointing. The new law is a top-down, unfunded State mandate and disrespects our local authority as a Home Rule City. This top-down action goes against the direct will of the citizens of Colorado Springs. On three separate occasions, our community has rejected this one-size-fits-all approach. This mandated approach caused two very different cities, Boulder and Colorado Springs, represented Mayor Matthew Appelbaum of Boulder and I, to come together and testify jointly against this Bill. Colorado Springs deeply appreciates and respects our firefighters, which is why we overwhelmingly approved a Public Safety Sales Tax years ago to help support them. Furthermore, Colorado Springs firefighters just received, by far, the largest salary increase of all City employees. In the face of continued fiscal difficulties, this new mandate may very well require the City to spend untold amounts in court defending our right to negotiate with our firefighters on our terms.
Someone needs to tell Bach to calm down. Even International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5 doesn't think the bill entitles fire fighters to collectively bargain for pay and benefits.
As Local 5's president Jeremy Kroto says in a statement via e-mail, "The legislation does not mandate any changes to the current system in place. Further, the petition process outlined in SB25 requires that we adhere to the existing process specified in the City Charter, preserving local control."
Kroto also said:
Colorado Fire Fighters are happy to have support from Governor Hickenlooper and the legislature regarding the bill. This bill gives fire fighters in Colorado an important voice with their employers making decisions that directly impact the citizens we've sworn to protect.
As you may be aware, prior to the bill signing, fire fighters in some localities in Colorado were barred from participating in the political process without fear of losing their jobs. In addition, many departments and elected officials refused to meet and discuss safety issues with fire fighters. This bill ensures that those meetings will take place.
As for Colorado Springs Professional Fire Fighters, this legislation doesn't create any process that was not already in place. There are no finding mandates within the legislation. Mayor Bach and his staff have provided us with a seat at the table on many important issues, including the pension solutions team, the compensation study, and the current health insurance RFP process. For that we are grateful. We also enjoy a good working relationship with Interim Chief [Tommy] Smith and his administration and continue to work on collaborative solutions to address challenges the department faces.
We will continue to cultivate strong working relationships with elected officials and fire department leaders to ensure Colorado Springs Professional Fire Fighters have a voice on issues regarding public and fire fighter safety. Our goal will continue to be ensuring your fire fighters have the staffing, equipment, training and resources needed to provide the best and most efficient emergency service to our community.