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May
2013
6

In Denver, Protecting a Worker’s Right to Organize Means Getting Your Emails Searched by the CoC



In the 5280, a battle is brewing between the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce (CoC) and the City Council after a formal request was sent by the CoC under the Colorado Open Records Act seeking access to council members’ emails. The Chamber is accusing council members of using their position to influence union organizing votes.

The unprecedented CoC move has sparked anger among council members such as Chris Nevitt who called the action “ham-fisted bullying.”

“I never got the courtesy of a call to let us know this is coming. This is bullying by the chamber, and it is frankly silly,” Nevitt said. “One has to ask a question: If something concerns you about the government, you talk to your government. You don’t go to war.”

In other words, “if you had a question you could have simply asked.” The Chamber claims that there have been three separate incidents in which the council has openly complained about working conditions at companies where employees are looking to organize a union.  Two of the three firms have contracts with the city.  It seems rational that the city council would be concerned for the rights of the city’s workforce among city contractors and that addressing workplace complaints would be part of doing a good job of governing. But to those wearing their Chamber of Commerce 3D goggles (read: blinders), this is a clear violation of…we’re not sure what. We just know that looking out for workers is not part of the Chamber’s corporate-funded agenda.

The issue surfaced in January when a few council members openly criticized HSS Inc., about workplace issues while its contract to provide security at Denver International Airport was up for renewal. At the same time, workers were preparing to vote to unionize. Councilman Charlie Brown said Councilwoman Robin Kniech was improperly using her position to influence the union vote.

Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell later called an executive session to inform council members of the law surrounding government involvement in dealing with labor issues.

The $5 million contract was approved, and HSS employees voted to allow Service Employees International Union to represent 400 workers.

Another incident involves Councilwoman Susan Shepherd, who sent a letter to the Auditor’s office regarding questionable activities of a catering company which had just had their contract renewed by the city in which she supposedly copied two paragraphs from the letter of a union leader.

Earlier this year, a union organization asked every firm bidding for the catering gig at the Colorado Convention Center to sign labor peace agreements — directives that give the union leverage to demand right-to-organize provisions.

Britt Gallagher, president of the Unite Here Denver chapter, said a few firms agreed to sign the agreement, one did not, and one said it would sign the peace agreement but never did. She would not name the firms.

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