An important note about the following press clipping: FRESC believes the article below accurately portrays a shift in the openness of the city council to address workers’ concerns, including unionized workers.
However, the article does not accurately reflect FRESC’s goals for the Economic Prosperity Task Force. FRESC believes that the Task Force is an opportunity to engage in a dialogue about values, including our city’s economic development priorities as they relate to jobs, housing, and the environment. Although we have a strong record of support for Prevailing Wages and other wage standards that protect workers’ abilities to make ends meet, FRESC believes the Task Force is an opportunity to have a meaningful dialogue on a full range of topics, and that wages are only one of many possible topics the Task Force could examine. We believe it is time to surpass media-inflated labor versus business debates, and we look forward to a dialog on all of the ways economic development impacts economic prosperity for Denver residents.
The Denver Post
Labor gets seat at city table
Denver's economic prosperity task force will have union ally as co-chairman
Christopher N. Osher
March 7, 2008
A reshaped political landscape is giving labor unions a chance to push issues at Denver's City Hall that didn't get heard in the past, political observers say.
Leaders in both the labor and business communities say they've seen a new tone develop, leading to increased wages for city workers and public fights over proclamations praising citizens aligned with one side or the other.
"I definitely think there's a shift in terms of what kinds of conversations people want to have," said Carmen Rhodes, executive director of FRESC, a labor-backed organization (formerly the Front Range Economic Strategy Center) that wants assurances companies receiving public subsidies for development will generate jobs that pay good wages.
The latest example of labor's rising clout will be on display when city leaders convene a new economic prosperity task force today.
Labor will have a big presence on the panel, which will meet through the end of the year. The push for the task force came from Councilman Doug Linkhart, a labor ally who will serve as co-chair.
Labor leaders hope to push an agenda through the group that would require companies that receive public development subsidies to pay prevailing industry wages.
They hope to build on the success they realized two years ago with the Gates redevelopment project at Broadway and Interstate 25. The city pledged $85 million to subsidize cleanup and new infrastructure for that project, but labor ended up getting commitments for affordable housing and prevailing wages for the construction jobs.
This time around, labor backers hope to include in the discussion potential commitments for higher-paying retail jobs from developers who receive public money. Such a scenario, which has been used in Los Angeles and other areas, would involve developers receiving public subsidies favoring, say, Costco over Wal-Mart, which typically has lower-paying jobs.
"This is the opportunity to have a broader discussion," said Rhodes, who will be a member of the task force.
Others are adding a note of caution.
Andre Pettigrew, economic development director for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, will join Linkhart as co-chairman of the task force.
"There are always trade-offs in these sorts of discussions," he said. "If a byproduct of this work is that all of us have a clear understanding of what the priorities are and what the trade-offs are in achieving these things, then we will have made progress."
Pettigrew hopes the city will come away from the task force's meetings with five top priorities. One he hopes to push for is making Denver a magnet for renewable-energy jobs.
Having a prominent presence on the task force is one of a string of successes labor officials have secured in recent months at city hall.
Union officials successfully challenged the mayor late last year and convinced the City Council to raise the base salaries of city workers beyond what the mayor thought was fiscally prudent. Business interests lobbied against the plan.
Even proclamations — usually feel-good measures — have produced clashes. This week, councilman Paul Lopez successfully pushed a proclamation honoring Leslie Moody, president of the Denver Area Labor Federation. Three council members walked out, with Councilman Charlie Brown accusing Lopez of "political pandering."
Earlier this year, a proclamation honoring the printing firm National Hirschfeld produced another clash when councilmen Chris Nevitt and Linkhart reminded those in attendance of the firm's earlier labor strife.
Business leaders are increasingly concerned, said Bill Mosher, a developer in town.
"I just left a meeting where we were talking about it," he said. "People were saying that this is getting out of control."
Several factors have driven the change in tone. The prospect of the Democratic National Convention arriving in August has put Denver at the forefront of the labor movement nationally, observers say.
"We're about to be on a national stage," said Tami Door, president and chief executive of the Downtown Denver Partnership, which unsuccessfully lobbied against the pay raise for city workers.
Another factor: change in the makeup of the council. The last election ushered in new members — Nevitt and Lopez — with close ties to labor.
"I definitely think the dialogue is shifting, and both Councilman Nevitt and Councilman Lopez are playing a role in that shift," Rhodes said.
Christopher N. Osher: 303-954-1747 or email@example.com