Jun 4, 2024 - News

Proposal giving most Denver employees collective bargaining rights moves forward

Animated illustration of the City of Denver logo changing into a union fist.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Thousands more Denver employees may earn collective bargaining rights in a move supporters say could improve pay equity and protections for city workers.

Why it matters: Backers say unions can improve pay and benefits for low-wage workers especially, and close pay gaps for women and Black, Asian and Latino staff members.

Driving the news: A Denver City Council committee on Tuesday forwarded the measure to the full council, who will decide whether to put the proposal on the fall ballot.

  • Voters must weigh in because it changes the city charter.

How it works: The proposal would let more than 9,000 employees choose whether to join a union, which would then negotiate a labor agreement with the city stipulating things like pay and benefits for its members.

What they're saying: "Right now, there are simply too many employees living below Denver's poverty line," Councilmember Shontel Lewis said during Tuesday's meeting. She is among seven council members sponsoring the measure.

  • Several local union members backing the measure also spoke during the meeting.

The intrigue: Collective bargaining rights could be crucial in narrowing the pay gap among local government workers and improving staff recruiting, according to a March 2022 report from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning nonprofit think tank.

  • Police officers, firefighters and sheriffs deputies in Denver — totaling roughly 3,500 employees — currently have bargaining rights.

Between the lines: Public safety officers, career service employees of the Denver Health and Hospital Authority, employees with managerial duties and hiring capacities, and certain political appointees would be excluded from collective bargaining under the proposal.

What's next: If voters approve the measure, it would go into effect on May 1, 2025.

  • Denver would join cities like Detroit, Seattle and Portland with similar rights for its municipal staff if successful
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