Longform

Ryan Frazier puts his job on the line with Amendment 47

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But Amendment 47's opponents argue that right-to-work isn't that simple. They say the evidence is far from conclusive that it spurs economic growth. "What I think it does do is reduce union density and create a climate of anti-union behavior," says Hogler. He points out that since all employees at a unionized workplace enjoy the benefits of the union, everyone should equally assume its cost — and that unions usually need the leverage of a unified, workplace-wide membership to win such benefits to begin with.

And in these tumultuous economic times, he adds, it hardly seems wise to be undermining anything that may help get us out of this mess. "What actually helped to prevent depressions and downtowns in the past were unions," he says. "A member could buy a house, he could have a fairly stable income and life, and those things were provided by unions. I don't think things that hurt unions are necessarily good for this country."

Not to mention that in Colorado, just 8.7 percent of workers are in a union, which is lower than the national average. Studies also show that most Colorado workers, when given a choice, don't seem to have a problem with obligatory dues. Between 1978 and 1998, workers voted to require compulsory dues in 234 out of 351 elections, meaning that each time, at least three-quarters of voters were for it.

To Amendment 47 opponents, the evidence is clear. They see this measure, along with two others on the ballot — Amendment 49, which would ban automatic payroll deduction for union dues, and Amendment 54, which would prohibit unions and contractors with no-bid government contracts from making political contributions — as a concerted effort to obliterate unions by a small group of conservative business interests. And Frazier, they say, is just an opportunistic politician.

"This is an ideological crusade," says Jess Knox, executive director of Protect Colorado's Future, a union coalition that's fighting Amendment 47. "Frazier, in my opinion, is trying to jump from Single A to the major leagues in one fell swoop."

But there's no clear proof that Frazier is backing right-to-work for political gamesmanship. Maybe, just maybe, this guy actually believes in it. After all, if he's aiming for the big leagues, he picked a tough way to get there. As American Furniture Warehouse's Zuppa puts it, "The five-dollar-book on how to be a politician in 2008 says that if you want to be successful and win elections, don't take stances on anything controversial."

And as Frazier and his colleagues have discovered, right-to-work in Colorado is as controversial as it gets.


The first ominous commercial appeared last March.

It portrayed cartoonish dollars flowing from a smoggy company labeled Carollo Engineers to a grinning Frazier. "An Arizona company wanted a $9 million contract with the City of Aurora. On the same day Carollo got a positive recommendation for the contract, fifteen Carollo employees sent Ryan Frazier identical amounts of campaign money," a voice says over gloomy music.

The commercial, paid for by the anti-Amendment 47 group Protect Colorado's Future, ended with Frazier's face on a dollar bill.

Frazier, in China for a conference, first heard about the ad while talking on the phone with his son Jalen, who wanted to know if his dad was going to be on the dollar.

The incident in question, involving multiple $99 contributions from Carollo employees, had occurred a year earlier but got a lot of attention just a few weeks before the commercial aired thanks to Foster Hines, an Aurora resident and Teamsters member. Hines says he learned about the donations at an informal meeting of union members, and that at the time he didn't know Frazier was backing Amendment 47.

"Since I am one of his constituents," says Hines, "I though I should ask this guy what happened." Hines filed several information requests but didn't get an answer, so, with help from Protect Colorado's Future, he sued Frazier.

The situation earned the councilman a spot on the non-profit group Colorado Ethics Watch's top-ten list of most corrupt Colorado officials.

"We live in a country where you can support me if you choose," says Frazier of the Carollo contributions. "You have to be kidding me if you think I am going to give up my integrity, sell my vote, let alone cheap enough for $1,500."

He adds that he had nothing to hand over for Hines's records request, which he says should have been sent to the city clerk's office.

Aurora City Council member Larry Beer, chairman of the water policy committee that recommended Carollo for the contract, backs Frazier's assertions. "Ryan wasn't on the committee," he says. "The contract was unanimously moved forward to the council, and the contract was unanimously approved by the council. It's hard to make the case that Ryan or any of us were the deciding vote on that contract." Beer notes, however, that the "timing could have been better" for Frazier to receive the donations.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner