Unionization will cost students dearly | Opinion
Over the past year, Colorado’s colleges, universities and local governments have watched unions with interest, and legislative supporters have promoted a plan to unionize public employees in every corner of our state. Now that we have a draft of the bill in hand, we’re worried — and parents hoping to send their kids to college in Colorado should be too.
Without sugarcoating, students and families need to understand that if a move to unionize government and campus employees ultimately succeeds, Colorado colleges and universities face a stark choice: dramatically raise tuition. or reduce university programs to cover substantial new projects. costs associated with collective bargaining.
To their great credit, in recent years and including this new budget, the Colorado General Assembly and Governor Jared Polis have prioritized investments in Colorado’s high-performing higher education system. These investments have allowed institutions to minimize – or, in many cases, completely avoid – increases in tuition fees.
These investments have also enabled our institutions to develop new academic programs to meet societal needs — training mental health professionals and front-line health care workers in rural areas, adding new nursing care designed to address a troubling shortage of nurses and invest in programs designed to achieve or provide alternative pathways to good careers. If our campuses are forced to focus their resources on labor relations lawyers and new HR staff to navigate an entirely new management environment (as, indeed, has been the case in every state where such systems are in play for public universities), so unless the State of Colorado takes over this new education spending, the only option our boards will have to pay for these items will be increased fees tuition (conservative estimates could exceed 10% per year) or cuts to university programs.
The truth is that our institutions were designed and built to be accessible to our most underserved Coloradans – that is, students of color, low-income students, and students who are the first in their families to go to the University. Everything about how we operate reflects this fact, from programming to faculty teaching loads to finances. And there is no disagreement that our lowest paid employees should earn a living wage; indeed, most of our institutions have been working for more than a decade with these groups of employees to improve compensation, benefits and career ladders — exactly the kind of results promised by unions.
The problem we have with this bill is not a difference in the desired outcome, but in how best to achieve that shared outcome without stifling access to public higher education. By adding this complex and costly new work regime to our systems, we will make education more expensive for families who can least afford it — period.
In his State of the State address at the start of this year’s legislative session, Governor Polis outlined an affordability program designed to save people money. We praise the governor’s goal here. We hope legislative leaders resist the urge to pass a complicated bill designed to unionize campus employees in the 11th hour of the 2022 legislative session, because its ultimate impact will be the exact opposite of saving money. Money to Colorado Students and Families.
Joe Garcia is the former llieutenant Governor of Colorado and is currently Chancellor of the Colorado Community College System. John Marshall is president of Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. Tony Frank is the Chancellor of the Colorado State University System.