Union Victories in Colorado and Montana Deserve Our Attention, But For Different Reasons

Brian Young was the first to report the news this week:

Montana and Colorado have both stopped attempts to pass Right to Work laws and will continue to be free bargaining states.

In Montana, Republicans have control over the entire state government, a first in over 16 years. Yet, over the past month, union members and employers have successfully pushed legislators to vote against Right to Work. On Tuesday, with union members filling the gallery and lining the hallways, legislators voted down the bill by a vote of 38 in favor to 62 opposed. In a show of bipartisanship, 29 Republicans joined with 33 Democrats in opposing the bill…

In Colorado, a similar Right to Work bill was rejected. By an 8-5 party-line vote, the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee voted down the bill.

Montana and Colorado defeat right to work

The “twin” rejections of right-to-work by these two western states are interesting, but for different reasons.

On the one hand, we have Colorado.

A little over a decade ago, Colorado was a legitimate presidential battleground state. Now it’s reliably blue with one of the nation’s most liberal governors. The state’s rejection of right-to-work by Colorado isn’t as interesting as the worker power that’s building there.

In 2020, Colorado Governor Polis and the Colorado legislature recognized public sector collective bargaining rights.
In 2020, Colorado Governor Polis and the Colorado legislature recognized public sector collective bargaining rights.

Labor in Colorado is using the new political landscape as a mandate to grow. One example being labor’s successful push to have Governor Polis recognize the right of public sector workers to collectively bargain. This will have lasting impacts on the state, region, and, of course, working families.

On the other hand, we have Montana.

A little over a decade ago, Montana was also considered a legitimate presidential battleground. However, the state has gone in a different direction. Other than U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Democrats have been decimated. Republicans now have large majorities in both the House and Senate. The state also elected an anti-worker rights Republican Governor in 2020.

Republican Gianforte and a slate of radical Republicans were swept into office in 2020.
Republican Gianforte and a slate of radical Republicans in Montana were swept into office in 2020.

Labor in Montana has deep roots and has managed to maintain a broad base of support despite a very unfavorable climate. In fact, Montana may prove to be a model for organizing.

The defeat of right-to-work in America’s interior this week is deserving of attention. They are case studies in how labor can wield dramatically different forms of political power.


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