Colorado Springs voters overwhelmingly denied collective bargaining privileges for firefighters in Tuesday’s election, maintaining the city’s long-standing anti-union sentiment, preliminary results show.
Issue 1, the ballot’s single question, lost by 26,634 to 57,904 votes, City Clerk Sarah Johnson said. The Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 5, petitioned the question onto the ballot late last year after collecting nearly 30,000 signatures.
The move was prompted by the Fire Department’s overworked and understaffed crews, Local 5 President Dave Noblitt has said.
Nonbinding arbitration would have allowed the union to negotiate for higher pay and lower mandatory overtime, among other things.
“The voters spoke, and we’ll live with the results,” said Fire Chief Ted Collas, who tread carefully so as not to pick sides. He noted, however, that he had expected the vote to be closer.
Mayor John Suthers said he appreciated the voters’ decision, affirming that the city is “doing it right the way we’re doing it.”
But the issue split city officials from the start.
Some council members, including former firefighter Bill Murray, supported the issue. Murray expressed condolences for the lost measure.
Suthers said collective bargaining would slow salary negotiations and could shrivel funding for other city departments. Plus, he has said, other employee groups surely would seek similar privileges.
But when asked by Murray at a council meeting, Suthers acknowledged that he never has negotiated with unions.
The mayor has delivered on a promise to hire more firefighters, though. After voters approved a set of stormwater fees in November, freeing some general fund money, the city hired eight firefighters and two Fire Department staff members.
More time is needed before that money can be used to give firefighters raises, several on the council have said.
The average entry-level salary for a firefighter in Colorado Springs is $53,000, while those starting in Denver earn $57,323, according to data from the cities. But Suthers has noted that the cost of living in Colorado Springs is much lower too.
Collas said Tuesday’s effort was perhaps the third time firefighters have tried to earn collective bargaining rights, and he wouldn’t be surprised by another attempt.
Noblitt, however, said Local 5 is unlikely to petition a similar issue on the ballot anytime soon.
“This is probably a once-in-a-generation type thing,” Noblitt said. “To attempt collective bargaining anytime soon would be probably not realistic, given the amount of resources that are necessary to make it happen. But we’re still going to continue to move forward, to be involved in the community.”
Noblitt, a 23-year Colorado Springs firefighter, quietly watched election results on a TV screen at a crowded watch party at The Thirsty Parrot.
“I think we expected it to be close,” he said. “I’m really in shock that we’re under water right now.”
John Roy, deputy campaign manager for Local 5, also said he thought it would be a much closer race.
“The amount of effort that was put in by the firefighters has me in disbelief,” Roy said. “I mean, we knocked (on) over 50,000 doors, so to see this sort of result is not even close to what I would have predicted.”
From The Gazette