Bill would require state firefighter unions

Cortez Fire Protection District, city opposes Colo. Senate measure

Vandevoorde Enlargephoto


The Cortez Fire Protection District and the city of Cortez are closely following the progress of Senate Bill 13-025, which would make it mandatory for firefighters to have collective bargaining rights and unions for those rights.

City Manager Shane Hale said he doesn't support the bill and adds that those decisions should be made by individual cities and towns, but not the state.

The Cortez City Council even approved sending a letter from Mayor Dan Porter to Gov. John Hickenlooper stating that this decision needs to come from the community, not the state legislature.

Hickenlooper has already sent a letter to the senate president and the house speaker to tell them he cannot support the bill in its current form and urged the Colorado General Assembly to consider alternatives and find a solution that can address the concerns of firefighters while respecting local control.

Cortez Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde said some fire departments and districts in the state have unions and collective bargaining rights for the unions. Cortez is not one of them.

Vandevoorde said if the senate bill were to pass, Cortez would be forced to follow the bill's requirements.

While the Colorado Fire Chief Association is opposed to the bill, Vandevoorde conceded that firefighters not in unions are probably supportive of the idea and measure.

The benefits to a union, according to the Cortez fire chief, is that the firefighters would have the right to say and fight for better salaries and benefits.

The disadvantages would tie the district's hand on what it can and cannot do, and often extra stipulations are requested by unions that are not always feasible or affordable.

But having a firefighter union is more common than not.

Vandevoorde came to Cortez from an Illinois fire department that had a union and was surprised when he discovered there was not one in the Cortez Fire District.

He said unions can also fight for employees and file grievances. Firefighters would also be required to pay mandatory union dues.

As fire chief, Vandevoorde said a firefighter union would make his job more difficult.

"From an administrative standpoint it is not a good thing," he said. "The union sometimes wants to do something that is (not wise)."

Vandevoorde also said a union would not change how the district would operate in any way.

"I just feel that as an administrative team we look out for our firefighters," he said. "That is our primary duty - looking out for the safety of our firefighters and the community."

The district, he said, does whatever it can with the available funds.

This is the second time in the last four years where making unions mandatory for firefighters has been discussed by the state legislature.

In 2009 a similar bill was vetoed by then Gov. Bill Ritter.