County governments have a proud employment tradition in Colorado, and Weld County is no different. Weld County employment is a good job, some choose to make it a career, and the employees who serve Weld County residents are dedicated public servants. Nowhere was this more on display than the recent public health emergency posed by COVID-19. Counties were the face of the local pandemic response, and our Weld County workforce admirably served our citizens during those trying times, working long hours as we fought to continue providing essential county services during a public health and economic crisis.
Legislation being considered by the Colorado General Assembly would implement a top-down collective bargaining obligation on county governments and higher education across Colorado and could jeopardize our working relationship with our employees. Collective bargaining (a required negotiation process that happens after a workforce votes to unionize) has the potential to create an adversarial relationship between government and its workforce, instead of the cooperative relationship the Weld Board of County Commissioners has always had with our devoted employees.
Counties are already facing tightened budgets due to the continued COVID crisis, increased operating costs (gas, inflation, etc.), and supply chain issues. County property tax revenues are finite in nature – we cannot “generate” more revenue without asking the voters for a tax increase.
Collective bargaining will necessitate additional staff time, legal resources, human resources expertise, dispute resolution costs, and ultimately higher wages and additional benefits. Challenges to static county budgets may necessitate cuts to services for our citizens or local tax increases to accommodate higher employee salaries. According to Weld County’s Director of Finance and Administration, if the proposed collective bargaining bill becomes law, Weld County could expect a one-time expense of approximately $400,000 to deal with the unionization campaign. Ongoing costs would be approximately $30 million ($29,927,376) annually.
In addition to the financial concern, the legislation does NOT contain a “no-strike” provision. County employees provide frontline services such as distributing cash assistance to families in need, plowing snow off our county roads, providing vital healthcare and clinical services, and protecting public safety. If county employees were to walk off the job during a labor dispute, it could very well threaten the health and welfare of our community and our citizens; something I took an oath to uphold and protect.
One of the primary roles of a county commissioner is to act as a fiduciary for taxpayers, overseeing how their dollars are expended and invested in the efficient provision of services by county government. My fellow commissioners and I represent the consent of the governed in county financial matters. Collective bargaining would usurp the will and consent of the voters by severely limiting the ability of the Weld Board of County Commissioners to manage one of the county’s largest expenditures – labor.
Several counties around the state have embraced collective bargaining and it is working well in those jurisdictions. But this is a local decision that should be left up to local government.
This mandated collective bargaining approach 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 legislative effort is bad for Weld County, bad for Weld taxpayers, and bad for Colorado.
This article appeared in the Friday April 22, 2022, edition of the Greeley Tribune.