Colo. workers’ seniority, pay rules up for debate

State employees are under the microscope in Colorado as lawmakers tackle broad revisions to employee protections that haven’t been changed in decades.

But don’t expect the fireworks other states have seen when revising how state employees are hired and fired. The Colorado overhaul has bipartisan support, and the state’s public employee union says it likes some aspects of the measure.

A House committee is scheduled to start work Wednesday on the bill to rewrite hiring rules.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has called on lawmakers to update those rules, some of which date to the Progressive Era a century ago. Many of the changes will have to be approved by voters because the protections are in the state constitution.

The changes include revised pay standards and big changes to the so-called “bumping” rule, in which senior employees could “bump” newer hires if they’re laid off. The “bumping” rule would be eliminated for most employees, but not those within five years of retirement. Employees say the “bumping” rule protects older workers from getting axed just because they’re about to become eligible for full retirement.

“You can’t just get rid of the higher-paid, longer-working employees,” said Scott Wassermann, executive director for Colorado WINS, the state employee union.

The union said it also reached compromise on temporary hires, which are currently limited to six months. The bill would allow the state to hire temps for up to nine months, but the state would have to wait four months between temporary gigs. That means the state would not be able to skirt benefit obligations by hiring people for never-ending temporary jobs.

Wasserman said public employees are also happy with a compromise on pay. Colorado moved to a “pay-for-performance” scheme about 10 years ago, but state employees complained they were never given raises even after stellar reviews.

The bill before lawmakers Wednesday would replace so-called “performance awards” with “merit pay” and a new pay scheme. The goal is to make government salaries more comparable to salaries in the private sector.