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|September 11-17, 2008
More news - The bus stops here
Civil rights, worker rights
A look at Amendments 46 and 47
by Dana Logan
When you enter the voting booth this year on Nov. 4, you can expect to be greeted by a hefty ballot. It will cover issues from gambling limits to birth control and abortion to criminal liability for business executives to government contracting reform.
In the coming weeks, Boulder Weekly will be sifting through the issues and helping Boulder County’s citizens make informed choices once Election Day rolls around.
This week, we take a look at Amendment 46, known as the “Colorado Civil Rights Initiative,” and Amendment 47, referred to as the “Colorado Right to Work Amendment.” Both of these amendments, if passed, would affect individual Coloradans and Colorado as a whole, so read on to find out what they are and how they’ll affect you.
Colorado Civil Rights Initiative
Depending on whom you talk to, this amendment would do one of two things: it would either guarantee equal rights or eliminate them.
If passed, Amendment 46 would amend the constitution of the state of Colorado by adding a section that includes the following:
“The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.”
While this may seem fairly cut and dry, there are people on both sides of the issue who feel very strongly — both against and in favor of these words being added to the state’s constitution.
While opposition is calling the initiative the “Anti-Equal Opportunity Amendment” and says that it will eliminate equal-opportunity programs for minorities and women, those who support the amendment claim that it will end discrimination on the basis of race and gender.
“The Civil Rights Initiative is intended to level the playing field for women and minorities in government contracting, hiring and public education. So instead of excluding anyone from state-funded programs — it doesn’t affect federally funded programs at all — it opens up those programs to everyone, regardless of race or gender,” says Kate Melvin, the assistant executive director of the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative Committee.
Opponents of the amendment claim that this is all just pretty talk, designed to win support for what is ultimately an effort to undo affirmative action-type programs in Colorado. If passed, the last thing this amendment will do is level the playing field, they say.
“This initiative is deceptively titled the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative when it does exactly the opposite,” says Jessie Ulibarri who directs the campaign for economic justice with the Colorado Progressive Coalition. “It erodes civil rights for Coloradoans. It would eliminate equal-opportunity initiatives in the state of Colorado.”
Colorado is one of five states with similar initiatives on the ballot for the upcoming election; Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma will also decide whether or not to add similar amendments to their constitutions. California, Washington and Michigan have already adopted initiatives that are nearly identical to Amendment 46.
“It’s been passed in three states so far, and what we’ve seen is higher graduation rates and higher retention rates in public universities, especially in the state of California,” says Melvin.
But Ulibarri cites different data.
“In the University of California system, it has dropped black and Latino student enrollment below the levels of 1964, which is pretty appalling because those black and Latino students, who are very highly qualified, are being forced out of the top-tier universities at the University of California and being pushed into second-tier schools.”
Melvin doesn’t deny that there are fewer minority students enrolled in the top-tier schools in the California system, but she says that it’s more important to look at the overall higher enrollment, higher graduation and higher retention rates among the minority students in California’s system.
When the initiative was put to a vote in California in 1996, the amendment was approved by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. The Washington Civil Rights Initiative passed 59 percent to 41 percent in 1998 and in 2006 the Civil Rights initiative passed in Michigan, 58 percent to 42 percent.
When asked why similar initiatives to the one Colorado voters will see this November passed by such large margins in other states, Ulibarri says the language of the ballot misled voters.
“I think the deception issue is why these initiatives have passed in other states. When you’re told that this supports civil rights and that it would end discrimination, but you don’t see the fine print that it would eliminate equal-opportunity initiatives, if you’re not a lawyer and you’re reading the ballot language, it’s confusing and so folks saw civil rights, and they said, ‘Yes, I support it.’”
Melvin explains that Ulibarri’s argument is a really common claim from opposition to the amendment.
“That’s our opposition not giving voters enough credit. That’s saying that they aren’t capable of reading the ballot language themselves, and I think that’s the exact mentality that’s holding so many people back. I think the voters are more than capable of reading our ballot language, which is very clear. It’s a few sentences long, and it says exactly what we’re going to do. It’s not deceptive at all, and I think people are more than capable of reading and comprehending that,” she says.
But Ulibarri thinks that voters would reject this amendment if they understood that, what he calls “equal-opportunity initiatives” — programs designed to outreach, train or mentor women and people of color so that they can have equal access to education, employment and contracting — would be eliminated with its passing.
Melvin thinks the time has come to eliminate affirmative action.
“I think that the original intent of those programs was good, and I think that the decision made by the leaders of the time was a solid one that they would still stand behind, but I think that a lot has happened in the past few decades, and I think it’s time to recognize the fact that race is becoming harder to define in society. Also women and minorities don’t need the same assistance as they used to,” Melvin says, in seeming contradiction of her earlier statement about the amendment’s intention of helping both women and minorities.
Ulibarri doesn’t believe that affirmative action programs have run their course. So when will they no longer be necessary?
“When the doors of opportunity are open to everyone,” he says. “And right now, it’s not that way.”
Come Nov. 4, we’ll see if the voters agree.
Colorado Right to Work Amendment
When you reach Amendment 47 on this year’s ballot, this is the question you will be asked to answer:
“Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning participation in a labor organization as a condition of employment, and, in connection therewith, prohibiting an employer from requiring that a person be a member and pay any moneys to a labor organization or to any other third party in lieu of payment to a labor organization and creating a misdemeanor criminal penalty for a person who violates the provisions of the section?”
Kelley Harp, spokesman for Amendment 47 wants you to answer yes. He says that passing this amendment would do three things for the people of Colorado:
“It would make it illegal to force someone to join a union as a condition of employment; it would make it illegal to force someone to pay dues or fees as a condition of employment; it preserves a worker’s right to voluntarily join a union, to voluntarily pay dues, to go on strike and engage in collective bargaining,” he says.
But Jess Knox, the campaign manager for Protect Colorado’s Future, opposes the amendment and says that the current system allows for every employee and employer to have a private conversation about whether or not they want to have a union.
“We think, along with the Golden Chamber of Commerce and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, that the current structure is working the way it is and the Colorado economy doesn’t need this at this time,” says Knox.
When asked if there might come a time when it will need it, he says, “No.”
Knox says that under federal law, no worker can be forced to join a union, and he says that federal law supercedes any state law, making this amendment to the constitution unnecessary.
“No worker is forced to be in a union under federal law right now, and anybody who tries to shop that hooey around is not really telling the full story,” says Knox.
But Harp says that this is a freedom issue, and it belongs in the Colorado constitution.
“Constitutionally is really the only way to guarantee workers’ rights in the long term,” he says. “I do agree that a lot of things get put in the constitution that shouldn’t be there. But if a freedom issue doesn’t belong in the constitution, then nothing does.”
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