2023 Leg Session, Energy, Exclusives, Featured, Gold Dome, Original Report, Sherrie Peif

Colorado contractors urge Gov. Polis to veto new employer burdens for energy-related construction

DENVER — A group of independent electrical contractors has asked Gov. Jared Polis to veto a bill they say will cost Colorado millions of dollars in lost wages and other economic losses.

Senate Bill 23-292 “strongly recommends” energy contractors use Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on construction projects that are either state funded or have incentives through public utility providers.

A PLA is unique to the construction industry. It requires that contractors whose employees are not unionized work with a labor union prior to being awarded the contract on a project to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment for that specific project.

The PLA includes such things as no-strike, no-lockout clauses and grievance/arbitration procedures. They also specify wages and benefits and usually require contractors to hire workers through a union-hiring hall. They can also require equity plans and details about hiring workers from “underserved” communities.

The bill, which was sponsored by Democrats Chris Hansen and Steve Fenberg in the Senate and Democrats Monica Duran and Shannon Bird in the House, claims the investment of “massive resources” by the state to transform the energy industry will require a “safe and cost-effective delivery via reliable and adequate supply of property trained workforce is a vital interest of the public.”

However, the president and CEOs of at least five electrical contractors in Colorado say those precautions are already in place and this bill simply puts 90 percent of the state’s labor force for energy projects out of work and hands over that revenue to out of state conglomerates.

Chris Cole, vice president of Encore Electric said this bill flies in the face of recent remarks by the governor and the state demographer where they stressed the needs for workforce development and the challenging numbers of available workers in Colorado.

“This legislation takes a side and goes against 90 percent of the existing (workforce) and goes against our existing culture,” Cole told Complete Colorado. “Colorado has been a merit-based industry workforce culture, especially in construction, for more than 100 years, and we’ve done fine with that.”

In the letter to Polis, Andy Gordon, President of Encore Electric, Inc.; Seth Anderson, CEO of Weifield Group Contracting, Inc.; Dustin Riddle, President of EC Electric, Inc.; Perry Herrmann, President/CEO of E Light Electric Services; and Robert Watkins, President of Ludvik Electric Co., said the “disguised, and singular goal” of SB 292 is to “leverage taxpayer money to assist unionization of Colorado’s trade industries.”

SB 292 is not the first bill majority Democrats have passed to force unionization in Colorado.

In 2022, they passed a bill that requires county governments to allow their employees to unionize. However, that bill was heavily watered down, as it initially was written it would have also forced cities, schools and colleges to collectively bargain with their workers.

The letter calling for the veto says unionizing Colorado’s trade force would harm the state in several ways, including:

  • Impact the existing workforce, the majority of which is non-union. “With surrounding states having a similar demographic, where can we expect the workforce to come from, and how can it be financially positive for taxpayers?” the letter asks.
  • Places limits on workforce development and the workforce pool. “We should be coming together as an industry to focus on continue to elevate and lift all skilled trades rather than adding laws that recommend restricting its majority.”
  • It will “promote more traveling by out-of-state union workforces and union contractors at the expense of loyal Coloradans.”
  • Claims that the PLA language is “optional,” are misleading. “It is very unlikely that utilities will use a mix of merit and union workforces due to Senate Bill 23-292.”

“Colorado already has numerous barriers to entry that prevent development within our state,” the letter reads. “Please show the boldness of your courage by vetoing Senate Bill 23-292 and averting it’s harm to both Colorado’s workforce and Colorado’s economy!”


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