Ritter veto works up disunion
By Jessica Fender
The Denver Post
THE FUMING over Gov. Bill Ritter's recent veto of a labor bill
continues as angry critics swear that he never told Democratic
leadership, bill sponsors or union backers that he planned to kill it.
Ritter's office contends staffers warned that the governor would veto
the proposal, which would have made it easier for workers locked out
of their job sites to receive state unemployment payments.
In his veto statement, Ritter said this would have given a grocery
workers union an advantage in current contract negotiations with major
But the disconnect over the death of House Bill 1170 may point to a
rift between the governor's office and the Democratic-controlled
legislature on labor issues. And, one year before Ritter's expected
re-election bid, it has seeded anger among one of the pillars of
Democratic political power: labor unions.
The governor's office meets regularly with House and Senate Democratic
leadership, and giving leading lawmakers and bill sponsors advance
notice that a veto awaits their proposal is a political courtesy, not
a requirement. Still, House Speaker Terrance Carroll said he never
heard the V-word.
"They never directly told me the legislation would be vetoed," said
Carroll, D-Denver. "My understanding was that he had concerns with the
timing. To me, that does not translate to 'I'm going to veto the
Carroll said lawmakers even changed the date the law would take effect
so it would not interfere with contract negotiations between the
United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7 and major grocery
A spokesman for Ritter's office declined to comment on whom the
governor or his staff told about the looming veto.
Veto note cited timing
A week before the veto, Ritter said he was listening to both sides of
the issue and would make his decision based on policy, not politics.
Ultimately, his veto note said the timing of the bill was wrong.
It wasn't a lack of meetings that led to the disconnect between the
governor on the first floor of the state Capitol and the lawmakers on
the second, legislators say.
The governor's office met frequently with Democratic leadership and
once with UFCW lobbyists before the veto. The bill's sponsors were not
invited to those meetings, said Rep. Ed Casso, D-Thornton, who carried
the legislation and got his first face-to-face meeting with Ritter
minutes before the veto was announced.
While Casso spoke to the Democratic governor's legislative liaison a
handful of times during the legislative session, he was told what many
others report hearing: There are concerns about the timing.
When asked directly by The Denver Post last week whether Ritter said
"veto," spokesman Evan Dreyer stopped short of saying "yes."
"There was constant and regular contact," Dreyer said at the time.
"They knew exactly what the governor's concerns were throughout the
Dreyer later told The Post there were repeated meetings with
Democratic legislative leaders before the bill was introduced and
during the session to tell them he would veto it.
That claim makes Democratic lawmakers look as if they recklessly
charged ahead with legislation they knew would die, said Rep. Mark
"He's well in his right to say, 'I'm not taking a position. You do
what you want to do as a legislature,' " said Ferrandino, a supporter
of the labor bill. "But where the concern from the people in the
legislature comes in is after using that argument, you say, 'Well, I
told them I'd veto it.' "
"LIAR" aimed at Ritter
UFCW Local 7 and the major grocery chains have been entangled in
contract negotiations since the start of May. The current contract is
set to expire at the end of Saturday.
HB 1170 would have made it easier for workers at one chain to receive
unemployment benefits should they be locked out because colleagues at
another chain go on strike. It would have taken effect July 1, when
negotiations could have potentially still been underway, though
lawmakers at one point changed the bill to take effect in 2010.
Critics of the legislation said it would burden the state's
unemployment insurance fund and unnecessarily involve the state in
deciding who stands to gain in labor disputes.
Reaction from the labor community, one of Ritter's biggest campaign
supporters in 2006, has been heated.
Sixteen of Ritter's top 20 contributors in 2006 were labor unions,
according to the Institute on Money in State Politics. And unions as a
whole contributed $134,000 to Ritter that cycle.
One more piece of pro-labor legislation lingers. Senate Bill 180 would
allow some fire departments to unionize without voter approval. The
governor has until June 5 to veto legislation before it automatically
A group calling itself Labor Initiatives Against Ritter — or LIAR —
has filed the paperwork needed with the Internal Revenue Service to
begin raising money for political purposes.
Mark Johnson, an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
member from the Colorado Springs area, is listed as the group's agent.
He declined to comment on LIAR's plans.
Jessica Fender: 303-954-1244 or firstname.lastname@example.org