Colorado Passes Law Granting Certain Labor Rights to Public Sector Employees

By Chad Trulli posted 05-26-2023 08:23 AM


On May 8, 2023, the Colorado Legislature sent Senate Bill 23-111, titled Public Employees’ Workplace Protections, to Governor Jared Polis for his signature. The bill, which was signed into law by the governor on June 6, extends certain traditional labor protections to a large swath of public sector employees. The bill does not grant the right to bargain collectively or unionize, but its protections pave the way for employee organizing.  

Public sector employers covered by the bill include counties, municipalities, fire authorities, school districts, public colleges and universities, library districts, special districts, public defender's offices, the University of Colorado hospital authority, the Denver Health and Hospital Authority, the Colorado Legislature, and the Board of Cooperative Educational Services. 

Under the bill, employees have many traditional labor rights, including the right to discuss or express views regarding public sector employee representation or workplace issues; engage in protected, concerted activity for the purpose of mutual aid or protection; participate in the political process while off duty and not in uniform; and form an employee organization. Employers are prohibited from interfering with or retaliating for the exercise of these rights. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) is tasked with enforcing these rights and will likely issue rules governing such complaints 

Notably absent from the bill is the right to bargain collectively. Covered employers would not be required to bargain with any employee organization or union, but critics of the bill claim it lays the groundwork for such a mandate. If future legislation extends collective bargaining rights to these employees, then many Colorado public colleges, school districts, hospitals, and other public employers would be required to negotiate contracts with unions or associations that their employees have chosen as their exclusive representatives.  

In the past few years, organized labor has made significant progress toward public employer unionization. Colorado Workers for Innovative and New Solutions (WINS) is now the exclusive representative for over 24,000 state employees. Later this year, a previously passed law extended the right to bargain collectively to the employees of approximately half of all Colorado counties. SB 23-111 appears to be another step in that direction, as it covers many more public employers even if it falls short of mandated collective bargaining. 

Most of the bill’s protections will become effective on August 7, 2023, with the CDLE’s authority over unfair labor practices beginning in July 2024. Public employers may want to begin training supervisory employees now on how to respect the labor rights of their employees. Employers Council has the resources to help and advise on such matters. If you have any questions, please contact our Member Experience Team.