Coors is not light in union battle

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Amendment 57, known as the Safe Workplace Initiative, would allow employees injured on the job to sue their employers for additional damages even after collecting workers compensation benefits.

Opponents predict that passage of the vaguely worded but attractive-sounding amendments would lead to years of litigation as the state attempts to clarify their intent. The measures also are expected to provide a financial bonanza for defense lawyers bringing lawsuits against employers.

“They’re draconian. They’re horrific,” Mr. Blake said. “We already know specifically of one company in California that’s looking at moving here. Now they’re saying, ‘If any of these pass, we’re not moving to Colorado.’”

Jess Knox, director of Protect Colorado’s Future, and Ernest Duran Jr., president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, who are both involved in the negotiations, could not be reached for comment.

That Colorado would suddenly become the focal point of union unrest is surprising, given the state’s long history of uneventful labor relations. Credit belongs to the Colorado Labor Peace Act of 1943, a unique hybrid that requires two secret-ballot votes of all workers before the creation of a union shop.

However, Democrats rocked the balance in recent years with House Bill 1072, a 2007 measure that would have eliminated the second vote. The bill was approved by both houses before being vetoed by Mr. Ritter; a few months later, he smoothed over his relationship with labor by signing an executive order allowing state workers to vote for union representation.

Shaken by the apparent cracks in the state’s labor truce, Mr. Coors and other business leaders moved to put the right-to-work measure before the voters. If passed, the measure would make Colorado the nation’s 22nd right-to-work state.

The state’s loaded November ballot includes two other measures disliked by unions: Amendment 49, which would bar governments from taking union dues directly out of workers’ paychecks, and Amendment 54, which would ban sole-source government contractors from contributing to political candidates.

The labor coalition opposes both, but neither is receiving the same attention as Amendment 47. Since Colorado has never been a union stronghold, critics say labor may be more concerned about its national image than the particulars of the state’s labor-business balance.

“Right-to-work, while I support it, isn’t going to change things,” Mr. Caldara said. “I think the national unions are worried that Colorado might give momentum to campaigns in other states, like Michigan. For them, right-to-work is the holy grail, or in this case, the unholy grail.”

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