Guest Column: Collective bargaining a bad deal for counties and taxpayers


Who is Douglas County? We are public servants. We maintain your county parks and open space, your roads and sidewalks. We provide safety and security for your community. We support at-risk populations through innovative and collaborative programs that provide a safety net while promoting self-reliance. We foster a business-friendly climate that enables residents, taxpayers and businesses the opportunity to prosper. We develop and maintain a safe and accessible transportation network with an eye toward future needs.

Not only are we public servants, we and our more than 1,300 employees are immensely proud that we are. That’s why we choose to serve here. Nowhere was this more on display then the recent public health emergency posed by COVID-19, when Douglas County remained open for business and worked hand in hand with residents and the business community, helping to not only maintain service levels but also protecting lives and livelihoods.

That said, we want you to know what is happening under the Golden Dome in Denver that has the potential to cost the taxpayers of Douglas County up to $50 million.

We anticipate a bill will be introduced mandating collective bargaining for county governments. This unfunded mandate would implement a top-down collective bargaining obligation on every county government in Colorado and would jeopardize the working relationship with county employees and impact service delivery to our communities.

We believe collective bargaining is a local decision that should be left up to individual counties and their employees, not mandated by the state.

To ensure clarity, collective bargaining is the process in which employees, through a union, negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment, including pay, benefits, hours, leave, job health and more.

Collective bargaining is a required negotiation process that happens after a workforce unionizes and has the potential to create an adversarial relationship between the county and its workforce and harm the cooperative relationship we currently share.

Collective bargaining is not designed to improve public services — in fact it does not even consider that aspect of our role in your life.

It is important to understand that all local governments are already authorized to accept and recognize collective bargaining units. This bill makes it mandatory for some, but not all, local governments to accept unions at the county level.

Data demonstrates that productivity is often lower in unionized environments due to the inability to move quickly or creatively in response to change. Unionizing increases difficulty recruiting and retaining the most creative and effective employees. In summary, unionizing creates massive barricades between employees and supervisors, while in a non-union environment, supervisors are the most trusted source in an employee’s relationship with its employer.

County property tax revenues — the primary source of revenue in our budget that funds your services —are finite in nature. We cannot “generate” more revenue without asking voters for a tax increase, nor would we want to. Collective bargaining will necessitate additional staff time, legal resources, human resources expertise, dispute resolution costs and ultimately higher workforce costs.

Challenges to static county budgets may necessitate cuts to services for our citizens or local tax increases to accommodate higher employee salary demands.

Yet another major concern is that this legislation does not contain a no-strike provision. Nothing would prohibit county employees — even those who provide frontline services such as distributing cash assistance to needy families, plowing snow off our roads, enforcing laws, and protecting public safety — from striking.

If county employees were to walk off the job during a labor dispute, it could very well threaten the health, safety and welfare of our community.

To be clear, we believe collective bargaining is a local decision that should be left up to individual counties and their employees.

Mandated collective bargaining has the potential to make hiring and retaining our county workforce in a post-COVID world even more difficult, especially as counties compete with municipalities for a limited pool of public sector employees. This statewide collective bargaining mandate is nothing more than a solution looking for a problem. It is bad for our county and bad for Colorado.

Abe Laydon, George Teal and Lora Thomas are elected officials on the the Douglas County Board of Commissioners.

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