RTW Defeat in Colo. Just Latest in Long Chapter


For the 30th consecutive year, a so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) proposal has gone down in ignominious defeat in Colorado.

In 29 of those 30 years, the anti-worker measure was defeated in the state Legislature. The other time was in the 2008 general election when it was rejected by Colorado voters.

Steve Vairma, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 455, pointed out that Teamsters had a big hand in helping to defeat the issue this year on a 5-to-3 party-line vote in the House State Affairs Committee recently at the state Capitol in Denver.        

“Our people know the union busters will introduce this bill every year, and we are always ready for them,” Vairma noted.   

Three of five people who testified against the bill were rank-and-file members of Local 455—Louis Washington, Mile Meese and Zurelle Rainey, all of whom received well-deserved plaudits from more than 200 union members who attended the meeting.

“They were really quite effective,” said Cindy Gallegos, Local 455’s political director. “Their messages were varied and very compelling.”

Among proponents for the proposal were a representative of the National Right-to-Work Committee from the Washington, D.C. area and a spokesman for a local business group, neither of whom was impressive.

Historically, there have been some interesting episodes as RTW has been brought up time and time again by Colorado Republicans, who have probably wasted millions of dollars of taxpayer money attempting to pass the bill.

In the early 1990s, former state Sens. Ken Chlouber, Dave Wattenberg and Dottie Wham were stalwart Republicans who always supported labor and voted against RTW.

They were a part of the history of RTW in in Colorado that provides some interesting and provocative narratives beginning in 1957, when the state was the first ever to defeat the anti-union measure in a statewide referendum.

Among Colorado’s RTW annals is an amusing episode that occurred in the early 1990s when Wattenberg from the floor of the Senate called the executive director of the Colorado Right-to-Work Committee a “damn liar” and pointed to him sitting in the gallery.  

In 1996, after Wattenberg and Wham had retired, Republicans still controlled all three branches of state government, but only by an 18-to-17 edge in the Senate.

So unions held their collective breath as the bill easily passed in the House and sailed through a Senate committee on its way to the floor.

The bill’s proponents were confident.  This time they had the votes. The fate of RTW was in their hands. At least, until they took the vote.

 But Chlouber, a union miner, dashed their hope. RTW was defeated by one vote after Chlouber made a stirring defense of the “dignity of work” from the Senate floor, and then voted with 17 Democrats to kill the bill.  He had no intention of voting for RTW.

Another historical milestone was also reached in 2008 when Bill Coors, the 92-year-old former president and chairman of the Coors Brewery, appeared in a press conference and said he opposed RTW, which was on the general election ballot that year.

The brewery — in the 1970s when it was a family-owned company — had a long, inglorious history of labor strife, including a long strike with scab replacements who voted to decertify the union. At the time, Coors, now deceased, was the company president.

So goes the history of RTW in Colorado, and it probably won’t end any time soon.