A proposal to give city workers like librarians collective bargaining rights has two paths to your ballot

Denver is one of the largest Democratically run cities in the country without collective bargaining rights for city employees.
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Destiney Darrough (left to right), Jamal Jones and Leslie Davis sit behind the main desk inside the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, which just reopened after renovations. Aug. 10, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Updated at 1:58 p.m. on Tuesday, June 4, 2024

City Council's Finance and Governance Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to move this bill to the full Council for a vote, which will come in the next few weeks.

Peter Simon works as a shelver at the Denver Public Library. He loves his job, but is unsure how much longer he can make rent in Denver on his salary.

That’s why he’s gathering signatures alongside other city workers and politicians who hope to bring a ballot measure this fall that would give municipal workers collective bargaining rights — something currently only teachers, firefighters and police officers in Denver have. 

Simon hopes bargaining rights will lead to higher wages and better benefits for library staff like himself.

“It’s important because I want to continue to live in the city I serve, and post-pandemic with inflation, cost of housing, it's gotten increasingly difficult for us to live in Denver with what we're making at the library,” Simon said.

Approximately 7,000 city workers cannot currently negotiate as a member of a union. But an amendment to Denver’s charter could go to the polls if City Council refers it to the voters, or if labor organizers get enough signatures. 

After past failures, supporters hope for more luck amid high union support

City Council discussed the potential amendment in committee on Monday.

“Collective bargaining is good for workers and the public. It is in the public interest, when public workers have the ability to collectively address workplace issues, they are better able to advocate for the public,” said Councilmember Chris Hinds, who is bringing the amendment along with Councilmembers Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, Shontel Lewis and Sarah Parady. “Unions can reduce the public sector pay gap.”

A similar measure failed at the polls in 1980 and 1997. This time around, labor leaders hope the amendment will go through during a moment when support for unions is surging.

In 2022, the state gave collective bargaining rights to more than 7,500 county employees, a move that did not include Denver, which is allowed to set its own rules. Denver is currently one of the largest Democratically run cities in the country without collective bargaining rights for city employees. 

“Denver is an outlier amongst our peer cities when it comes to giving our municipal workers bargaining rights,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said Monday. 

The proposal's two paths to the ballot

If passed, the amendment would allow city staff to move toward a collective bargaining and union vote if 30% of department employees in non-supervisory roles agree to support the move. Then, eligible staff would need more than 50% of people to vote in favor of a union.

The change would apply to city staff employed in places like libraries, parks and rec, and public health staff, as well as other municipal workers.

The proposed amendment will go before an initial vote in committee on June 4, before heading to all of Council. 

The proposal could also hit the ballot if organizers get nearly 54,000 signatures.

Editor's note: This article was updated to correct the number of signatures needed to make the ballot.

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