Business on the ballot 

Labor and anti-union groups tussle while prospective comers wait it out

click to enlarge Large commercial properties, both developed and undeveloped, sit empty on Garden of the Gods Road. - KIRK WOUNDY
  • Kirk Woundy
  • Large commercial properties, both developed and undeveloped, sit empty on Garden of the Gods Road.

Some businesses considering a relocation to Colorado Springs are so nervous about progressive and pro-worker initiatives on the November ballot that they have put their searches on hold, says Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp.

"My biggest concern is if we don't address the legislative issues in this coming election, we're likely to go into a nosedive," he adds.

Election Day, Nov. 4, will be a nail-biter for labor and business groups. If labor and progressive forces pass Amendments 53, 55, 56 and 57, company executives will be liable for crimes committed by their businesses, it will be illegal to fire a worker without "just cause," businesses with 20 or more workers will have to provide health insurance, and employers will be responsible for providing "a safe and healthy workplace."

Kazmierski is concerned about those initiatives, and he's not alone. Even Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter says the initiatives would "have an impact on our economic development conversations."

But the state ballot is also glutted with initiatives aimed at constricting organized labor. If anti-union groups pass Amendments 47, 49 and 54, union dues will become voluntary, government payroll deductions for union dues will be illegal, and political contributions from entities that deal with the government (including unions) will be restricted.

The competing initiatives have created a quagmire that prompted Ritter to attempt a truce between the two groups, asking both sides to pull all the questions from the ballot. That failed. On Monday, Ritter also refused an offer by the Independence Institute's Jon Caldara, who sponsored Amendment 49, to yank that initiative from the ballot in exchange for the governor rescinding an executive order that gave government employees the right to negotiate with department heads.

Instead, Ritter has continued a long pursuit for compromise between business and worker groups, in which businesses would gift millions to fight Amendment 47 in exchange for worker groups pulling their four initiatives from the ballot. He calls the exchange "mutually assured destruction." Ritter said Monday that businesses had shown preliminary support for the arrangement, though a deal had not been struck as of press time.

Not all are satisfied with Ritter's plan. State Rep. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs accuses Ritter of back-room dealings that excluded Republicans. He says Ritter would do better to simply announce his opposition to pro-worker initiatives.

Others are more upbeat. State Rep. Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs says despite his good feelings toward unions, he thinks a compromise would be a wise option.

Meanwhile, a nervous EDC says as many as 200 companies in everything from customer service to aerospace are considering a move to the Springs, with the city a finalist in several searches.

Dave White, the EDC's executive vice president of marketing, says some of those companies are likely to make a final decision in the next few months, and a couple could decide within weeks.

If the Springs lands those deals, they would bring about 2,000 new jobs. White says companies often see the Springs as a more affordable option than say, California, when looking to set up a Western office.

Despite the national economic crisis, he notes, "We're getting more leads now than we did 10 years ago."



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