TRUTH TEST: Is Amendment 47 about employee freedom?

5:17 PM, Oct 16, 2008   |    comments
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The following Truth Test, supporting Amendment 47, regards a political ad paid for by Defend Our Economy (, registered as an issue committee with the Colorado Secretary of State.

Amendment 47 would prohibit Colorado employers from requiring its workers to be a member of a union and pay union dues as a condition of their employment. The amendment stipulates that employers would be charged with the highest misdemeanor available if they have such a requirement for employees.

There is a clause in the proposal, as well, that defines "labor union" to include "organizations that deal with employers over employee issues," such as pay rates, work hours, and grievances. The definition also includes organizations that provide "mutual aid or protection in connection with employment" (Blue Book).

If passed, this would make Colorado a "right-to-work" state, in line with 22 other states in the southern and western regions of the country (

Right now, federal law states that a worker may not be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) states that full union membership cannot be compelled (Source: American Bar Association overview of labor law published by the Bureau of National Affairs).

The ad is 30 seconds long and supports Amendment 47. Its claims are tested below.

QUOTE: Hi, I'm Jake Jabs, and I want to set the record straight about Amendment 47 (CEO American Furniture)

Jake Jabs is the owner and CEO of American Furniture Warehouse. According to campaign finance records, he has donated $10,000 to Defend Our Economy (, SOS ID: 20085616094), as well as to A Better Colorado, another organization supporting Amendment 47. American Furniture also contributed about $2,000 to A Better Colorado this year (, SOS ID: 20085614486).

QUOTE: All it does, it gives workers the right to choose for themselves whether or not they want to join a union (Graphic: "Amendment 47 is about the freedom to choose")

TRUTH: This is false.

As it stands now, and as we mentioned above, federal law prohibits anyone from being forced to join a union. What Amendment 47 would really do is give workers the right to decide if they want to pay any dues to the union for the purposes of negotiating for wages and benefits.

However, the NLRA also includes a "union shop" clause to avoid the problem of "free riders." In order to reap the rewards of collective bargaining, including health, wage, and other conditional benefits, workers must pay union dues and service fees. Such a clause may be placed in a collective bargaining agreement and apply to employees affected by the agreement. Such workers, to adhere to the agreement, must maintain "financial core" status in unions, which is not considered full membership. If a worker refuses to pay these fees, they may be fired. This shop clause is meant to maintain the security of the agreement.

The federal law does allow individual states to "prohibit otherwise lawful union security agreements" in measures like right-to-work laws (Source: American Bar Association overview of labor law published by the Bureau of National Affairs).

In Colorado, unions are regulated under the state's 1943 Labor Peace Act. It allows the creation of unions after a simple majority vote by workers at a job site followed by a second vote where a supermajority needs to agree to create a union. The collective bargaining agreements that unions and management negotiate can include what's called a "union shop" clause. This permits the unions to require, as a condition of a worker's employment, that they pay dues and service fees to pay for collective bargaining.

Amendment 47 proposes to make those dues and service fees to the union optional.

QUOTE: This is not about out-of-state money or big corporations. Amendment 47 was written and funded by Coloradoans for Coloradoans.

TRUTH: There may be some truth to that, as efforts at passing right to work legislation at the Colorado State Capitol have taken place in many previous years and its primary legislative sponsor, Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch), is a major supporter of Amendment 47. However, the campaigns to pass Amendment 47 are not as Colorado-centric as Jabs would have you believe.

According to the Secretary of State's Web site, only in-state organizations and individuals have supported Defend Our Economy, but other pro-47 organizations have received money from out of state.

A Better Colorado, besides local contributions, has received donations from the Free Enterprise Alliance in Arlington, Virginia, and the National Right to Work Committee, headquartered in Springfield, Virginia (, SOS ID: 20085614486).

Further, a definitive answer to this issue is still pending. The Rocky Mountain News reported that the Colorado Right to Work Committee, which distributed the petitions to get Amendment 47 on the ballot, has violated campaign finance laws by failing to disclose all of its contributions. An administrative law judge has fined the group nearly $10,000 for not reporting all of its contributions on its Jan. 15 report. (Source: Rocky Mountain News, Oct. 16)

QUOTE: Labor bosses are spending millions and millions to keep Coloradoans from having the basic rights they deserve.

TRUTH: It is accurate to say that labor unions are substantially supporting anti-47 groups, but they're not the only ones fighting Amendment 47. Further, its impact of this on worker's rights is opinion.

Two prominent groups have advocated against Amendment 47: Protect Colorado's Future and Coloradans for Middle Class Relief.

Protect Colorado's Future is an organization that has been backed by Governor Bill Ritter (D-Colorado) and receives funding from major labor organizations in and out of the state. According to the Colorado Secretary of State, its contributors include the national AFL-CIO and multiple unions from across the country (, SOS ID: 20085605180).

Similarly, Coloradans for Middle Class Relief has received major contributions from the National Education Association and the United Food and Commercial Workers (, SOS ID: 20085619561). More about this organization can be found in another 9NEWS Truth Test, analyzing their ad against Amendment 47.

It should be noted that some business leaders joined Colorado's labor organizations earlier this month to defeat Amendment 47, along with two other measures considered to be "anti-union." The deal between business and labor organizations was agreed upon in early October.

According to The Rocky Mountain News, the agreement included having four "anti-business" measures withdrawn from the ballot (Amendments 53, 55, 56, and 57), while business organizations pledged $3 million to defeat initiatives dealing with labor, including Amendment 47, 49, and 54 (Rocky Mountain News article).

QUOTE: Vote yes on Amendment 47. It's good for the economy and it's good for Colorado.

TRUTH: This is opinion.

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