Colorado Health Insurance Initiative (2008)

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The Health Insurance Initiative or Initiative 92 was certified for the ballot as Amendment 56, but the sponsors struck a deal to withdraw the measure on Oct. 2, 2008, in exchange for business leaders joining forces with them to oppose Amendment 47 (the Right to Work Amendment) and two other measures they label as anti-union (Amendment 49 and Amendment 54).

The measure would require every employer that employs twenty or more employees in the state of Colorado to provide major medical health care coverage for its employees (paying 100% of the cost) and their dependents (paying 50% of the costs). The initiative would set up a health insurance authority to administer this requirement.

This measure is a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment.

The official ballot title reads:

An amendment to the Colorado Constitution concerning health care coverage for employees, and, in connection therewith, requiring employers that regularly employ twenty or more employees to provide major medical health care coverage to their employees; excluding the state and its political subdivisions from the definition of "employer;" allowing an employer to provide such health care coverage either directly through a carrier, company, or organization or acting as a self-insurer, or indirectly by paying premiums to a health insurance authority to be created pursuant to this measure that will contract with health insurance carriers, companies, and organizations to provide coverage to employees; providing that employees shall not be required to pay more than twenty percent of the premium for such coverage for themselves and more than thirty percent of such coverage for the employees' dependents; financing the costs of administering the health insurance authority and health care coverage provided through the authority with premiums paid by employers to the authority and, if necessary, such revenue sources other than the state general fund as determined by the general assembly; directing the general assembly to enact such laws as are necessary to implement the measure; and setting the effective date of the measure to be no later than November 1, 2009.


This measure along with four others (Initiatives 93 through 96) were all filed March 31, 2008, by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7. Union leaders acknowledge 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.[1][2][3]

Political observers see these measures as further setting the stage for "a fiery showdown between business and labor in November."[2]

"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.[2][3] Gonzales admitted that the unions didn't consider what would happen if right-to-work failed and the five initiatives passed. [1]

Gonzales said the amendment shouldn't put companies at a competitive disadvantage. "A healthy work force equals a healthy business," he said. "In turn, that equals a healthy economy."[4]

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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.[5]

"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."[5]

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, senior vice president 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."[2]

Pilcher said the mandate, if approved, will adversely affect tens of thousands of state businesses employing hundreds of thousands of workers. "The impact on Colorado's business climate is going to be horrendous," he said.[4]

Pilcher added that the amendment would encourage businesses with slightly more than 20 employees to cut jobs, discourage businesses from relocating to Colorado and prompt affected businesses to cut back on wages, training, and other expenses.[4]

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.[6]

The National Federation of Independent Business of Colorado announced May 1, 2008, that it has joined Coloradans for Responsible Reform in the effort.[6]

The board of the Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce voted unanimously July 7, 2008, to oppose this measure—as well as several other ballot initiatives backed by organized labor (Initiatives 73, 74, 75, and 76). Donna Evans, CEO of the chamber, said the initiatives, if passed, "would damage business, especially small- and medium-sized business."[7]

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.[8]

"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."[8]

Brian T. Schwartz, Ph.D. points out that Amendment 56 is a "a violation of the rights of employers to run their business according to their own best judgment," has several unintended consequences that hurt workers. These include lower wages, decreasing pay-raises, raising prices, reducing health benefits, reducing other benefits (e.g., pensions), laying people off, replacing employee with automated machines, hiring fewer people or ineligible workers, and out-sourcing.[9] He also notes that requiring employers to provide insurance "can put minorities and women out of a job."[10]

Club 20, which represents the interests of western Colorado's 22-county region, announce its opposition to the measure in mid-September 2008.[11]

Dr. Paul Hsieh, co-founder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine writes that Amendment 56 is "morally wrong because it violates the rights of employers and employees to negotiate to their mutual self-interest in a free market. ... To “solve” the problem of high insurance costs by foisting those costs onto businesses would be just as wrong as “solving” the problem of rising gasoline prices by forcing businesses to pay their workers’ gasoline expenses."[12]

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.[13]

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."

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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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[15]

Talks broke off without a deal on Sept. 16, 2008, at the governor's mansion. But they resumed later in the week.[15]

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.[15]

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.[15]

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.[16][17] Amendment 47 supporters say they have no intention of dropping their proposal.[18]

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.[16]

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.[16]

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.[16]

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.[18]

Todd Vitale, manager for Coloradans for Responsible Reform, said fundraising efforts slowed down during the negotiations.[18]

"Our research indicates that once voters learn about the real impact of these measures, they will vote them down," Vitale said.[18]

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.[18]

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.[19]

"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."[19]

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.[19]

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."[19]

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."[19]

"This is about running a joint campaign, and there are some complex details," Knox said.[19]

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.[14][20]


The measure was certified for the November 2008 ballot on Aug. 25, 2008, as Amendment 56.[21]

Supporters submitted 174,100 signatures on Aug. 4, 2008. If at least 76,047 are found to be valid, the measure will earn a place on the November 2008 ballot.[22]

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Denver Business Journal: "Union files five ballot initiatives," April 1, 2008
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Denver Post: "Union group backs ballot initiatives," April 1, 2008
  3. 3.0 3.1 Rocky Mountain News: "Labor fires back with more ballot measures," March 31, 2008
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 American Medical News: "Employer health insurance mandate on Colorado ballot," Sept. 22-29, 2008, issue
  5. 5.0 5.1 Denver Business Journal: "South chamber opposes right-to-work and other initiatives," April 14, 2008
  6. 6.0 6.1 Denver Business Journal: "NFIB backs anti-initiative campaign," May 1, 2008
  7. Denver Business Journal: "Colorado women's chamber opposes labor's initiatives," July 7, 2008
  8. 8.0 8.1 Denver Business Journal: "Colorado Economic Leadership Coalition opposes labor, union measures," Aug. 11, 2008
  9. "Colorado Amendment 56: immoral, impractical," Jul. 2, 2008
  10. "Colorado Amendment 56 destroys jobs for the poor, minorities, and women," Aug. 6, 2008
  11. Delta County Independent: "Club 20 takes positions on 11 of 18 ballot measures," Sept. 17, 2008
  12. Rocky Mountain News: "Free market reforms healthier than Amendment 56," Sept. 19 2008
  13. Rocky Mountain News: "Ritter's pleas on ballot issues go unheeded," April 3, 2008
  14. 14.0 14.1 Denver Channel 7 News: "Labor Unions To Pull Ballot Measures," Oct. 2, 2008
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Rocky Mountain News: "Talks to resume to avert labor ballot battle," Sept. 18, 2008
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Denver Post: "Money tight as business pursues labor ballot deal," Sept. 25, 2008
  17. Rocky Mountain News: Opinion: "FOX: Labor-issues impasse at the precipice," Sept. 26, 2008
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 Denver Business Journal: "Ballot issues' TV ads back on," Sept. 26, 2008
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 19.5 Denver Business Journal: "Business-union pact: A dead deal?," Sept. 30, 2008
  20. Denver Post: "Ballot talks have evolved," Sept. 23, 2008
  21. Secretary of State statement of sufficiency
  22. Denver Post: "329,000 signatures for two union measures," Aug. 4, 2008