Sunday, April 22, 2018

Colorado Legislator Seeks to Criminalize Teacher Strikes


Nobody wants a labor strike - it's never the good option for people seeking fair and just compensation in collective bargaining for employment. It's a last resort. That said, work stoppages have been a time-honored practice as the one significant piece of leverage workers have in negotiations. In certain places and fields, the practice is prohibited by law or contracts with a "no-strike" clause. Good examples are first responders - a labor stoppage can be a public safety risk. And any employer can simply fire all striking workers - Ronald Reagan proved this on a grand scale in 1981. Of course, strikes by public employees such as teachers can be quite inconvenient, though occasionally educators find the action a necessary move. Teacher strikes are actually quite rare (before this spring teachers in West Virginia had not struck in 30 years), and they are often resolved in a reasonable time, and progress is made.

And 2018 has proved to be a year that progress is necessary, and improvements in the funding and structure of public education must be made. What started in West Virginia has moved to Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, and now Colorado, as educators take a stand for appropriate funding of one of society's most valuable institutions. We need schools, and schools need improved funding. There are many reasons for the protests and strikes, and in Colorado the cause seems justified when the state with a scorching hot economy, high levels of education, and growing population ranks near the bottom of the economy in education funding and teacher salaries. An increasing number of school districts are going to four-day weeks as a cost-cutting measure, and the legislature is considering several versions of a bill to alter the teachers (PERA - Public Employees Retirement System) pension by altering benefits and shifting more of the financial burden to the teachers, who do not receive Social Security.

So, some teachers in several of the largest school districts have worked with their districts to coordinate days of action at the state capitol, leading to the cancelling of classes due to large numbers of teachers taking legal personal days. One school district faces a potential teacher strike as well. And that legal action doesn't sit too well with a couple state legislators who have introduced a late bill in the legislative session which would make teacher strikes illegal and would criminalize - with penalties of jail time - any work stoppage by educators. This seems to me, by any reasonable assessment of the situation, to be a huge over-reaction and a politically charged stunt by a couple state politicians looking to make names for themselves with the fringes of the Colorado Republican Party. Senate Bill SB18-264, sponsored by Republican senators Paul Lundeen and Bob Gardner  "would prohibit pubic school teacher strikes by authorizing school districts to seek an injunction from district court. A failure to comply with the injunction would “constitute contempt of court” and teachers could face not only fines but up to six months in county jail ..." 

I'm not sure what has led Paul Lundeen to take such extreme action toward educators - but I have a hunch. Lundeen is running for Senate. At one time, Paul Lundeen seemed to be a true friend of public education, and he played a significant role in supporting schools, students, and teachers during the standardized testing mess in Colorado a few years back. But he appears to have a problem with organized labor, and he has decided that labor strikes are criminal behavior which should be punished with jail time. They are not, and they shouldn't be. Seriously. The action of work stoppage by labor organizations can certainly be inconvenient - which is precisely the point - but they are legal actions that have Constitutional merit. Choosing to protest and stop work would seem to be a simple issue of individual freedom. What do Lundeen and Gardner have against individual freedom and personal rights? Actually, very little. These politicians are trying to score cheap political points, and I find their choice to clog up the legislative docket quite disappointing. 

Thus, I am urging teachers, parents, community members, and legislators to stand against Lundeen and Gardner's bill. SB18-264 should not waste the time of the Colorado legislature which is doing good work to address the challenges of public funding in the state. This bill should be killed in committee. Please consider contacting the following legislators and encouraging them to oppose this bill which is a stunt at best, but at worst a vindictive assault on democracy and personal freedom.

Senator Vicki Marble - 303-866-4876  vicki.marble.senate@state.co.us

Senator Jerry Sonenberg 303-866-6360  senatorsonnenberg@gmail.com

Senator Lois Court - 303-866-4861  lois.court.senate@state.co.us

Senator Stephe Fenberg - 303-866-4872  stephen.fenberg.senate@state.co.us

Senator Owen Hill - 303-866-2737  owen.hill.senate@state.co.us

And, contact Senators Lundeen and Gardner and ask them how they can claim to support freedom and individual rights with a bill that seeks to suppress individual liberty through the power of the state.

Paul Lundeen - 303-866-2924  paul.lundeen.house@state.co.us

Bob Gardner - 303-866-4880   bob.gardner.senate@state.co.us




1 comment:

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