Colorado Cost of Living Increase Initiative (2008)

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The Cost of Living Increase Initiative or Initiative 96 was a ballot measure that would have required every employer in Colorado to provide their employees with an annual wage or salary increase based on the Consumer Price Index for Colorado. The pay hikes would have been in addition to any regular pay increases due to union contracts, employer policies, or any other agreements. The proposal added that, "In no event shall an employer reduce the wages or salaries of employees because of a decrease in the Consumer Price Index."

This measure was a citizen-initiated state statute.

This measure was withdrawn by its proponents in June 2008 as an overture to business interests, hoping to encourage proponents of the Colorado Right to Work Initiative to withdraw that measure as well.

"We want to show that we're open to negotiation with the business community," said Manny Gonzales, a spokesman for UFCW Local 7.[1]

Kelley Harp, a spokesman for A Better Colorado, the group pushing Amendment 47, said the withdrawal of the UFCW measures will not keep the right-to-work initiative from appearing on November's ballot.[1]

The official ballot title read:

An amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning annual cost of living increases in employees’ wages or salaries, and, in connection therewith, requiring employers to provide annual wage or salary increases to their employees to adjust for increases in the cost of living; restricting such requirement to employers who regularly employ ten or more persons; requiring that such increases shall be measured by the same consumer price index used for Colorado by the state department of labor and employment to make changes to the state minimum wage; specifying that the cost-of-living increase shall not apply for employees who receive annual wage or salary increases equal to or greater than the cost-of-living increases mandated by the measure; prohibiting employers from reducing wages or salaries due to a decrease in cost of living; enabling aggrieved employees to file complaints related to the cost-of-living increase with the state department of labor and employment and authorizing the director of that department to conduct investigations of such complaints and, if warranted, take action to enforce the payment of the cost-of-living increase; and enabling employees who did not receive the required cost-of-living increase to recover the amount of the adjustment owed, along with reasonable attorney fees, in a civil action.

Supporters

This measure along with four others (Initiatives 92 through 95) 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.[2][3][4]

Political observers see these measures as further setting the stage for "a fiery showdown between business and labor in November."[3]

"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.[3][4] Gonzales admitted that the unions didn't consider what would happen if right-to-work failed and the five initiatives passed. [2]

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Opponents

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 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."[3]

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]


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.[7]


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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Status

The Title Board has set the ballot title for this measure, and a petition form has been approved. Proponents must collect 76,004 valid signatures to get the proposal on the November 2008 ballot. In June 2008, the measure was withdrawn by proponents.


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