Colorado bill would give county employees collective bargaining rights


The “Collective Bargaining by County Employees Act,” SB22-230, was introduced in the Colorado state Senate on April 25. 

About the bill

SB22-230 would give county employees the right to join a union and bargain collectively beginning in 2023. It would not permit employees to strike. 

The bill’s prime sponsors are Senate President Stephen Fenberg (D), Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno (D), and House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar (D). The Senate Business, Labor, & Technology Committee held a hearing on April 27 and referred the bill to the Senate Appropriations Committee without amendment. 

CPR News’ Andrew Kenney wrote that the bill “would grant collective bargaining rights to about 38,000 public-sector employees in Colorado,” allowing county employees “to form unions and — if they can gain enough members — enter into collective bargaining agreements with their employers. … Under the proposed bill, employees would no longer have to ask permission before organizing. It guarantees that workers have the right to associate with one another, talk about their concerns and present those concerns in a unified way to their bosses.”

While Democrats had “hoped to pass a sweeping new law to grant union organizing rights to hundreds of thousands of employees,” Kenney wrote, “[t]he initial proposal was gradually eroded over months of negotiations, facing intense opposition from local governments.” To read more about the circumstances leading up to the bill’s introduction, check out the Jan. 28 and March 25 editions of Union Station. 

Sen. Fenberg said, “At the end of the day … we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We didn’t take [other public workers] out because we didn’t have the votes. It was because of a deliberate conversation with workers and, honestly, some of the workers were split on how they wanted to proceed.”

According to Colorado Politics’ Marianne Goodland, county employees in four of Colorado’s 64 counties (Pueblo, Adams, Summit, and Las Animas) have collective bargaining agreements with the county. Rep. Esgar told Colorado Politics, “We’re saying as a state all county employees have this right. Just because there’s good acting counties already doesn’t negate the need for this in other areas where maybe there’s not good acting county commissioners.” 

Sen. Fenberg said, “The bill does not force a union on workers, and it does not force a contract on a county. This bill says that if they can’t come to an agreement on that contract, then they don’t sign a contract. So a contract is only if two sides are willing to sign that agreement, and the county can always walk away and say, ‘it’s just not reasonable. We just don’t have money to give those types of raises.’” 

Conor Cahill, a representative for Gov. Jared Polis’ (D) office, wrote, “While we are still looking at the latest version, we appreciate the sponsors’ work on this important issue and encourage them to continue working with the counties as well as our office on the final details of the legislation and we are optimistic that agreement can be reached on the few issues still open.” 

According to The Denver Post’s Alex Burness, “Lawmakers have until May 11, the scheduled final day of this year’s legislative session, to pass this bill. … Republicans in both chambers of the legislature say that while they don’t have the votes to kill the bill, they plan to fight it as ferociously as any bill pending in these final couple of weeks of the session.” 



Rep. Esgar said, “We think that is a huge group of folks who have been literally standing in the middle of the pandemic and serving our communities every single day. … They deserve the right to come together and improve their workplaces.”

AFSCME Press Secretary Nick Voutsinos wrote, “SB22-230 would apply to child welfare staff, transportation workers, water treatment employees, emergency service workers, electoral workers, and all essential county personnel who keep Colorado’s communities running. With collective bargaining rights, county workers will be able to join together and gain a seat at the table with management, where they can work with the decision-makers of their respective departments to solve key workplace issues – whether those are related to workplace safety, the quality of public services, or the current staffing crisis plaguing many county governments.”

AFSCME Local 1335 president Josette Jaramillo said, “With collective bargaining rights, county workers can finally work with management to solve the staffing crisis and save our vital public services. Having a seat at the table will allow us to have crucial conversations with our managers about what would make county jobs more attractive, so we can not only recruit more folks, but also ensure great workers stick around for the long-haul. In fact, studies show when workers have a protected voice on the job, they are more likely to stay on the job — because when you have hope that you can improve things, you have a reason to stay.”


Communications Workers of America Local 7799 vice-president Alex Wolf-Root said, “At this point, the bill has been watered down not just for who’s in it but the conditions of the bill — to the point that our membership was not OK with the conditions. … If you have nothing with binding arbitration and you make it illegal for workers to flex their power (through strikes), you take any leverage they have for management and the bosses to accept any of this.”

Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas said, “The increased cost of collective bargaining will make the difficulty of dealing with rapidly rising costs even worse. … And our citizens will suffer in the form of reduced services.” 

Fremont County Commissioner Kevin Grantham said, “There’s going to be costs up front for every single county regardless of whether it goes to vote or not. Every county will have to prepare for the eventuality that it does. … If we talk about the no strike provision and the fact that we can just do away with it and just ignore it at the end. … why do we need to do this then in the first place? If  we can veto on the back end the only thing happens in that case is they force us to spend a lot of money on the front end for something that will never happen.”

Additional context

In 2018, 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. 

Local government employees have collective bargaining rights in over half of U.S. states. Twenty-six states require local government employers to bargain with employees. Of those states, 13 are Democratic trifectas, seven are Republican trifectas, and six are divided governments. Six states—four Republican trifectas and two divided governments—prohibit local government employees from bargaining collectively. In the remaining 18 states, local government employees are permitted to bargain, but employers are not required to bargain with employees. This includes 12 Republican trifectas, one Democratic trifecta, and five divided governments.  

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 141 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 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 Appropriations Committee hearing held April 27, committee recommends “do pass.”  
  • 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.
    • Read second time, amended, and re-referred to Senate Appropriations Committee on April 21. Committee hearing scheduled for May 2.  
  • California SB1313: This bill would prohibit Los Angeles County from discriminating against union members by limiting employee health benefits.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Read second time, amended, and re-referred to Senate Appropriations Committee on April 21. Committee hearing scheduled for May 2. 
  • California SB1406: This bill would allow unions representing excluded state employees to request arbitration with the Department of Human Resources in certain circumstances. 
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Senate Appropriations Committee hearing scheduled for May 2.
  • Colorado SB230: This bill would give county employees the right to organize and bargain collectively beginning in 2023. 
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Introduced, referred to Senate Business, Labor, & Technology Committee April 25. Committee hearing held April 27, referred to Senate Appropriations Committee. 
  • 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 out of Legislative Commissioners’ Office, favorable report from Senate Appropriations Committee, tabled for the Senate Calendar April 22. 
  • Maine LD449: Existing law requires public employers and collective bargaining agents to meet within 10 days of receiving written notice of a request for a bargaining meeting. This only applies if the parties have not otherwise agreed in an earlier contract. This bill would eliminate that exception.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • House and Senate passed to be enacted 4/25/2022
  • Oklahoma SB1579: This bill would allow school boards to grant unpaid leaves of absence for employees to hold office in an employee association if certain criteria are met. An employee organization would be required to comply with this law in order to be recognized as the representative of a bargaining unit.     
    • Republican sponsorship. 
    • House passed April 26, Senate sent to governor April 27.
  • Rhode Island S2244: This bill would establish a method of dispute arbitration for municipal employees, who are not allowed to strike. It would allow arbitration decisions to be petitioned to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.  
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Referred to House Labor Committee April 22.