As Colorado Teachers Plan Protest, GOP Seeks to Outlaw Strikes

by | April 25, 2018

By Jesse Paul

Two Republican state lawmakers have introduced a bill seeking to prohibit Colorado teachers from striking and make it so they would face firing, fines or even jail time if they do so anyway.

Senate Bill 264 was introduced on Friday and comes amid a broader conversation across the state about education funding and educator pay, and as teachers gear up later this week for a second round of demonstrations at the Capitol. Classes have been canceled in a host of Denver metro school districts as a result, including in Jefferson County and in Denver where school officials plan an early release.

The measure's chances of becoming law are miniscule -- with the Democratic-controlled House unlikely to support it and some GOP lawmakers weary themselves -- though it has injected another level of debate and controversy into the already simmering issue.

"I'm not sure how far it makes it," said Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City. "I'm not sure it has 100 percent support in the Republican caucus."

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, said she thinks it should be left up to teachers to decide if they want to strike or not.

The legislation specifically seeks to prohibit public school teachers and teachers' organizations from directly or indirectly being involved in a strike and would bar districts from paying an educator for any day they participate in a demonstration.

Under the bill, school districts would be able to seek an injunction to stop a strike in court. Any educator who doesn't comply would be in contempt and therefore face fines or up to six months in jail, or both.

Furthermore, the measure would allow a school district to be able to immediately fire a teacher -- without a hearing -- should they violate a court order prohibiting a strike. I f a teacher organization is found in contempt, any collective bargaining agreement they worked on would be rendered null and they would be barred from collecting dues.

Democrats have been rallying around teachers in Colorado as they push at the legislature for increased school funding and pay.

"Last week was really phenomenal," said Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, of a teachers' demonstration at the Capitol last week. "Most of the teachers just want to be heard."

Republicans have said educators' demands are misplaced since individual districts set what educators are paid, and point out that state lawmakers this session have set aside millions to bolster school funding.

"These aren't new discussions," said Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. "Now what we are seeing is a teachers' union that is pressuring teachers in school districts to converge on the Capitol."

It wasn't clear Monday when Senate Bill 264, sponsored by Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, will get its first hearing.

(c)2018 The Denver Post