Denver’s labor bosses have decided 2012 is the year to ask voters to step up unionization in the city. Their timing appears as bad as the idea.
• What part of “no” have labor leaders not heard? Twice in recent years, Denver voters have rejected expanding unions to more Denver city workers. The union bosses must believe that winning control of a majority of the Denver City Council, which they did in the recent election (often done in low-profile, low turnout, multi-candidate council races), will be the same as selling the broader Denver electorate on their incorporation of the city’s workforce. Big difference.
• Unions, especially government unions, are increasingly on the defensive. As the Wisconsin battle highlighted, unionized government workers’ generous health, pension and secure salaries have convinced many voters that it’s time to limit government employee perks, protective work rules and collective bargaining power.
• Denver, like many urban cities, has a major structural deficit, mostly reflecting salary commitments for unionized public safety officers and generous career service payouts.
• Denver is especially struggling with a high jobless rate. New job producing businesses usually believe aggressive municipal unionization will lead to higher taxes, more regulation and a good reason to not move in. Denver, in particular, is in a fierce competition with suburbs that have far lower levels of unionization.
• Of course, there will be a high voter turnout, most likely supporting President Obama. And, Democrats are more sympathetic toward unions than other voters. Still, this remains an uphill battle.
• And, of course, it appears that 2012 may be even less robust economically than this year, providing voters even more reason to limit raising the cost of government.
The most recent Gallup poll shows that 55 percent of Americans believe unions will be weaker in the future – a ten year high. Even a plurality of Democrats believes they will be weaker (46% Democrat, 58% Republican, 57% independent). In fact, a plurality of voters would like to see unions weaker (42%) versus only 30 percent who felt they should have more influence.
See also Denver Post article: Teamsters woo Denver city workers in push for collective bargaining