Colorado Safe Workplace Initiative (2008)
|Not on Ballot|
| This measure did not or |
will not appear on a ballot
The measure would have required every employer in Colorado to provide their employees with a "safe and healthy work environment." Failure to comply with obligations of the measure, if passed, would open employers to damage lawsuits that could be filed by injured employees, in addition to any claims through the workers compensation system. No definition of "safe and healthy" is included in the proposal.
This measure was a citizen-initiated state statute.
The official ballot title reads:
An amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning a safe workplace for employees, and, in connection therewith, requiring employers to provide safe and healthy workplaces for their employees; restricting such requirement to employers regularly employing ten or more employees in the state; and enabling employees who are injured because of an employer's violation of this requirement to file suit in district court, with the right to a jury trial, to recover compensatory and exemplary damages, actual past or future pecuniary losses, and noneconomic losses including pain and suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life, but prohibiting injured employees from recovering any damages for which the employee already received compensation pursuant to the "Workers' Compensation Act of Colorado."
This measure along with four others (Initiatives 92, 94, 95, 96) were all filed March 31, 2008, by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7. Union leaders acknowledged that the five measures were filed as a counter-attack in retaliation against the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry's recent endorsement of the Right to Work Initiative (Initiative 41), which would prohibit union costs from being deducted from the paychecks of employees who choose not to join the union.
Political observers saw these measures as further setting the stage for "a fiery showdown between business and labor in November."
"We saw that if right to work is something voters approve in November, eventually—inevitably—workers' rights are going to suffer," said Manny Gonzales, a spokesman for the UFCW. Gonzales admitted that the unions didn't consider what would happen if right-to-work failed and the five initiatives passed. 
The South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce announced its opposition April 13, 2008, to this initiative, as well as to the others filed at the same time by the union. At the same time, the group officially announced its opposition to the Right to Work Initiative as well.
"Continued support of these initiatives creates an adversarial dynamic between these groups and threatens Colorado's economic peace and vitality," the Chamber said in a statement, adding that the current Labor Peace Act has "served Colorado well for 60 years in allowing for cordial relations between management and labor."
Some business groups said Monday that the right-to-work ballot proposal came only after increased activism by unions.
"The unions started this," said Dan Pilcher, a spokesman for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, which supports the right-to-work proposal. "The business community doesn't feel like this was a fight that it initiated by any means whatsoever."
The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce launched a group called Coloradans for Responsible Reform, which is raising money from business interests to oppose this initiative as well as numerous other initiatives that they see as anti-business.
The National Federation of Independent Business of Colorado announced May 1, 2008, that it has joined Coloradans for Responsible Reform in the effort.
The Colorado Economic Leadership Coalition came out Aug. 11, 2008, against the proposed amendment, as well as several other labor-backed counter-measures and the Right to Work Initiative. The coalition, which is the public policy arm of the Economic Development Council of Colorado, said they believe the amendments will make it hard to recruit businesses to Colorado and threaten to destabilize 66 years of business-labor peace in the state.
"These initiatives are economy-killers and will lead to increased prices, unemployment and legal paralysis," the coalition said in a presentation to members. "The 22 economic development corporations across the state can simply close up shop. No business is moving to Colorado if these measures pass."
Club 20, which represents the interests of western Colorado's 22-county region, announce its opposition to the measure in mid-September 2008.
Five-measure filing fires up a bitter fight
Gov. Bill Ritter and others have made strong pleas for both union and business leaders to back down, asking both groups to pull their ballot measures to avoid a bitter fight that could throw the state's political situation into chaos. But despite these efforts to discourage them, both sides seem to be pressing forward with their initiatives. See Colorado ballot initiative news for more information on the controversy.
Other measures where unions and business clash
In addition to the five measures filed March 31, 2008, a coalition of unions and advocates for the poor are supporting six other initiatives that would impose criminal and civil penalties on certain executives or employees of businesses that commit fraud. The coalition also is backing an initiative that would bar employers from firing employees without "just cause."
Business leaders join unions to oppose Amendment 47
Just hours before the Oct. 2, 2008, deadline for withdrawing measures from the November ballot, labor unions leaders announced that they would be pulling four controversial measures from the ballot in exchange for business leaders signing on as active opponents of Amendment 47, including $3 million to help fund the opposition campaign.
Attempts to strike a deal, led by Gov. Ritter, began early in the campaign but fizzled when Amendment 47 proponents refused to end their campaign and filed signatures to place it on the ballot. However, in mid-September, union and business leaders showed renewed interest in negotiating a deal to avoid the clash at the ballot-box.
Colorado Concern, a new alliance, was a key player in the latest talks about the terms under which labor groups would pull their four measures if business leaders help them fight the Amendment 47 and two other measures they see as anti-union. Present at the negotiations for Colorado Concern were Walter Isenberg of Sage Hospitality Resources, Denver Performing Arts Center Chairman Dan Ritchie, and Oakwood Homes' Patrick Hamill.
Talks broke off without a deal on Sept. 16, 2008, at the governor's mansion. But they resumed later in the week.
Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce President Joe Blake attended the two meetings in mid-September and sits on the Colorado Concern board. But he said then that the Chamber will not spend any of its own resources to fight the three measures opposed by organized labor.
In an address Sept. 17, 2008, at the chamber's annual membership lunch, Blake steered clear of talk about a compromise, instead calling on the audience to defeat the four proposals sought by unions. Blake later expressed pessimism that a compromise could be reached that would lead to the withdrawal of the measures.
A source from Colorado Concern said Sept. 24, 2008, that they had pledges of $2 million from business interests toward the $6 million the union leaders say is necessary to convince them to withdraw the four anti-business ballot measures. That money would be used in the campaign to defeat Amendment 47 and two other measures the unions see as anti-union. Amendment 47 supporters say they have no intention of dropping their proposal.
Denver Metro Chamber President Joe Blake was asking companies that contributed to the chamber's issue committee, which was formed to oppose the labor-backed measures, not Amendment 47, to shift their money to fight the pro-business measures.
Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association and executive vice president of the Metro Denver Automobile Dealers Association, told Blake his members would not finance the fight against Amendment 47. "Although it's not finalized yet, my belief is that we would not allow our money to be forwarded to a campaign that would be opposed to what we would call the pro-business ballot measures," Jackson said.
The metro Denver auto group has given $500,000 to the chamber's issue committee, while the state auto group has contributed $100,000 to the Amendment 47 right-to-work campaign.
Coloradans for Responsible Reform said Sept. 26, 2008, that it would proceed with TV commercials opposing the union-backed measures (Amendments 53, 55, 56, and 57), since a deal for their withdrawal was not yet at hand. The campaign suspended the ads two weeks previous while business and union leaders worked on a deal.
Todd Vitale, manager for Coloradans for Responsible Reform, said fundraising efforts slowed down during the negotiations.
"Our research indicates that once voters learn about the real impact of these measures, they will vote them down," Vitale said.
Vitale said his campaign had raised $1.6 million, compared to more than $6 million raised by organized labor to fight Amendment 47 and support the measures they are sponsoring.
On Sept. 30, 2008, Walter Isenberg, chairman of Colorado Concern, announced that a deal between labor and a coalition of business leaders to pull four union-backed initiatives had fallen through.
"A lot of progress was made over the last few weeks," Isenberg said in a released statement. "Unfortunately, we were unable to come up with a proposal to which union leaders would agree, and we have simply run out of time."
The statement said there will be "no deal" with labor leaders, and business leaders will instead focus their financial resources on fighting the four union-backed ballot measures.
But Jess Knox, a spokesman for Protect Colorado's Future, said there's "still time on the clock" and that a deal could still be worked out, noting that they "still have two days to pull this off."
The group of business leaders reportedly had raised $3 million to oppose Amendment 47, short of the $5 million union officials reportedly wanted businesses to raise to fight Amendment 47. But Knox insisted the effort wasn't "just about money."
"This is about running a joint campaign, and there are some complex details," Knox said.
The deal was finally worked out during late-night meetings and announced Oct. 2, 2008, the deadline for removing measures from the ballot. Because the ballots are already being printed, the measures will still appear there, but no votes for the measures will be counted.
The measure was certified for the November 2008 ballot on Friday, Aug. 29, 2008, as Amendment 57.
- Full text of the initiative
- 2008 State Ballot Information Booklet, English version (Blue Book)
- 2008 State Ballot Information Booklet, Spanish version (Blue Book)
- Union of Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 web site
- Denver Business Journal: "Union files five ballot initiatives," April 1, 2008
- Denver Post: "Union group backs ballot initiatives," April 1, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Labor fires back with more ballot measures," March 31, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "South chamber opposes right-to-work and other initiatives," April 14, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "NFIB backs anti-initiative campaign," May 1, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "Colorado Economic Leadership Coalition opposes labor, union measures," Aug. 11, 2008
- Delta County Independent: "Club 20 takes positions on 11 of 18 ballot measures," Sept. 17, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Ritter's pleas on ballot issues go unheeded," April 3, 2008
- Denver Channel 7 News: "Labor Unions To Pull Ballot Measures," Oct. 2, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: "Talks to resume to avert labor ballot battle," Sept. 18, 2008
- Denver Post: "Money tight as business pursues labor ballot deal," Sept. 25, 2008
- Rocky Mountain News: Opinion: "FOX: Labor-issues impasse at the precipice," Sept. 26, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "Ballot issues' TV ads back on," Sept. 26, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "Business-union pact: A dead deal?," Sept. 30, 2008
- Denver Post: "Ballot talks have evolved," Sept. 23, 2008
- Denver Business Journal: "Amendments 57, 58 put on ballot," Aug. 29, 2008
- Denver Post: "329,000 signatures for two union measures," Aug. 4, 2008