AFT and AAUP meet with Colorado gov. about proposed union bill


American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten and American Association of University Professors (AAUP) president Irene Mulvey met with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) on March 21 about a proposed bill that would expand public-sector collective bargaining in Colorado. 


The bill, which has not been introduced, would expand public-sector collective bargaining in Colorado to include as-yet-undefined categories of government employees. State government employees gained collective bargaining rights in 2020.

The Denver Post’s Alex Burness wrote on Feb. 18, “[M]any sources told The Post that Gov. Jared Polis, whose signature is needed to turn a bill into law, is not interested in including people who work for cities, school districts or special districts.”

On March 8, Colorado Politics’ Marianne Goodland reported that “negotiations between [Polis], who opposed the legislation’s concepts as contained in early drafts, and bill sponsors have resulted in narrowing down the list of public sector employees who could engage in collective bargaining with their employers.” Goodland wrote, “The original draft said collective bargaining would be available to any public sector employee who wants to join a union. … But a Feb. 25 letter to Polis from Colorado Counties, Inc., … pointed out the legislation now appears to apply only to counties and higher education. Most notably, public education has been left out.”

According to Burness, “It took two sessions … for Polis and Democratic lawmakers to agree on a bill granting collective bargaining rights to the state workers union. That bill affected some 30,000 people belonging to a single union.” Burness said, “[I]t is unsurprising that this follow-up, which could touch hundreds of thousands more people, belonging to many hundreds of different workplaces, is even trickier.”

One of the bill’s sponsors, Senate President Steve Fenberg (D), said, “I want to introduce a bill that can pass. I don’t want to introduce a bill that’s far from reality of what we can get done.” 

To read more about the background of the proposed bill in the Jan. 28 edition of Union Station, click here.  

Support for the bill

On March 21, AFT president Randi Weingarten and AAUP president Irene Mulvey met with Polis and also participated in a roundtable discussion with Colorado public higher education faculty.

The Colorado Sun’s Erica Breunlin and Jesse Paul wrote that while meeting with Polis, Weingarten and Mulvey “[discussed] the need for collective bargaining rights among higher education faculty” and “[advocated] for legislation that would be as expansive as possible.”   

During the roundtable discussion, Mulvey said, “Collective bargaining is an essential right for all workers. … (Students) deserve a stable faculty with decent working conditions that has a voice in institutional decision-making and are not scrambling to make ends meet.” 

According to Breunlin and Paul, “Weingarten … said the momentum around securing collective bargaining for higher education professionals is ‘about democracy.’ It’s also about building up institutions, the economy and individual lives, she said, so that employees like adjunct professors no longer have to turn to food banks to make ends meet.” 

Earlier in March, Colorado Education Association president Amie Baca Oehlert said, “We fundamentally believe that workers should have a right to bargain their pay, benefits and working conditions and a bill to that end should benefit all public workers in the state. For public school workers, it is paramount for us to have these protected rights as our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.” 

Opposition to the bill

Colorado Counties, Inc., which represents all but two of the 64 counties in the state, said: “It is wholly inequitable to burden just the counties with this collective bargaining obligation. It has the potential to make hiring and retaining people in a post-COVID world even more difficult, especially as we compete with our municipalities for a limited pool of public sector employees.” 

According to Goodland, Colorado Municipal League executive director Kevin Bommer “said while municipalities appear to be excluded, his group also still opposes the bill and will work to defeat it.” 

Before the scope of the bill was reportedly narrowed, a Feb. 14 letter from Bommer and leaders of eight other organizations, including the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, said: “The undersigned organizations … write to express our strong opposition to any proposal mandating collective bargaining for all public employees. … A top-down, mandated approach would impose a significant unfunded mandate on the undersigned stakeholders’ respective members and contradict Colorado’s long history of local control.”

Additional context

Polis was elected in 2018. In the 2018 elections, Democrats gained trifecta and triplex control of Colorado’s government. Democrats currently have a 20-15 majority in the Senate, and a 41-24 majority in the House of Representatives. 

According to Colorado Public Radio’s Andrew Kenney, “[Fifteen] of Colorado’s 272 municipalities have collectively bargained agreements with any part of their workforce, and almost all of those contracts are with police and firefighters. Just about a quarter of school districts have collective bargaining, too.”

Local government employees have collective bargaining rights in over half of U.S. states. 

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 132 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue.

  • California AB1714: This bill would allow unions representing excluded state employees to request arbitration with the Department of Human Resources in certain circumstances.  
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for March 29.  
  • California AB2497: This bill would require state higher education employers to distribute union membership authorization forms to new employees during the orientation process and return completed forms to the exclusive representative.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Assembly Public Employment and Retirement Committee hearing postponed. 
  • California AB2556: This bill would change the time frame for a local public agency employer to implement a final offer after a factfinders’ recommendation has been submitted in the case of a dispute between the employer and employee organization.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Assembly Public Employment and Retirement Committee hearing scheduled for March 30. 
  • California SB931: This bill would allow a union to bring a claim before the Public Employment Relations Board against a public employer allegedly in violation of California Government Code Section 3550 and sets civil penalties for violations. Section 3550 prohibits public employers from discouraging union membership. 
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Referred to Senate Judiciary Committee March 22.   
  • Connecticut SB00209: This bill would recognize probate court employees as state employees for collective bargaining purposes. 
    • Introduced by the Senate Labor and Public Employees Committee.
    • Reported from the Legislative Commissioners’ Office, ordered to appear on the Senate calendar March 23.  
  • Georgia HB1576: This bill would allow public employees to organize and bargain collectively. It would prohibit strikes against public employers. The bill would establish the Georgia Public Employees Relations Board. It would allow union dues to be deducted from members’ wages if the employee gives written authorization. It would set terms for the certification of unions as exclusive bargaining agents and set collective bargaining procedures. 
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Introduced March 18, first reading March 21, second reading March 22.  
  • Maryland HB1485: This bill would extend collective bargaining rights to certain employees of the Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Rereferred to House Appropriations Committee March 17.
  • New Hampshire HB1041: This bill would extend the public employee labor relations act to cover nonpartisan employees of the New Hampshire legislature. 
    • Democratic sponsorship.  
    • “Lay on Table” motion adopted March 17. 
  • New Hampshire HB1472: This bill would prohibit employers from taking certain actions against employees involved in legal strikes or collective bargaining preceding a legal strike. It would also prohibit employers from “[engaging] in anti-union training of any kind.” 
    • Democratic sponsorship.  
    • “Inexpedient to Legislate” motion adopted March 17. 
  • New Jersey A3646: This bill would allow public employers to grant paid or unpaid leaves of absence to employees who are officers or representatives of a union, if the union’s collective bargaining agreement or an addendum to the agreement names or describes the eligible public employee and specifies the dates of the leave of absence. For paid leaves of absence, a collective bargaining agreement must “[require] the labor organization to reimburse the employer in advance, on a schedule provided in the agreement or addendum, for payments to be made by the employer to the employee or on behalf of that employee for compensation and benefits.” The bill would require public employers to keep a publicly-available file containing certain information about the public employees who are on leaves of absence and details of their leave. 
    • Republican sponsorship. 
    • Introduced, referred to Assembly State and Local Government Committee March 17.