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No state intervention in DPS, union labor dispute; Teachers say they'll strike Monday

Denver teachers are set to strike on Monday after the state Department of Labor opted not to intervene in the dispute between the union and the Denver school district.

DENVER — The path is clear for Denver Public Schools teachers to go on strike after Gov. Jared Polis' administration announced Wednesday afternoon that they would not intervene in the current dispute.

After the announcement, the teachers union said via Twitter that it plans to strike Monday.

DPS also tweeted, saying it has invited the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) "back to bargain tomorrow and remains committed to reaching resolution. Strike not in our students' best interest."

During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova said she was "very motivated" to reach a deal with the teachers union ahead of Monday. 

“We think it’s incredibly important for our entire community that we continue to work on getting to an agreement,” Cordova said. “Frankly, I think we are very close and with continued hard work, with honest dialogue with authentic exchanges of proposals that we can actually do that.” 

The DCTA applauded the state's decision not to intervene in the dispute, but said in a statement that it would remain open to a new proposal before Monday. 

“DCTA remains committed to bargaining and reaching a deal with the district for a fair, predictable, competitive compensation system,” Denver teacher and DCTA President Henry Roman said. “It is incredibly disappointing that DPS has not yet taken our discussions at the bargaining table seriously. Now we will exercise our right to strike for the schools our students deserve, but we will listen when the district is ready to bring us a real proposal to consider.”

Polis said DPS schools will remain open if a strike does occur. Early childhood education, however, will not be able to move forward in the event of a strike due to the licensing requirements, training and background checks needed to staff those classrooms, Cordova said.

RELATED: DPS teachers strike: All our coverage in one place

In the official letter from the Department of Labor and Employment to the district superintendent, the state says it decided not to intervene because it believes both the union and the district are very close to a resolution to their labor dispute.

"We believe that the two parties are very close to a resolution and have largely achieved a mutual understanding of the facts in the areas of dispute," the letter reads. "[The department] believes, giving our current understanding of how close the parties are, that the process should proceed without state intervention."

According to the DCTA, 93 percent of their members voted to strike on Jan. 22. The strike did not happen on the planned date of Jan. 28 because Cordova formally asked the labor department to intervene a day after the union vote.

The teachers union and district had been going back and forth on negotiations ahead of the DCTA voting to go on strike. The latest round of negotiations stalled out on Jan. 31 after the district offered to add $3 million to their previous offers for the 2020-2021 school year. The district said it would eliminate 100 central office positions to free up the cash. The union called the new negotiations a "waste of time."

If the union opts to strike on Feb. 11, it will be the first time since 1994 that Denver teachers have been out of their classrooms. Signs of trouble between the district and the union can be seen as far back as April 2018, when teachers in Denver joined protesters nationwide asking for more money for schools from legislators.

RELATED | Denver teacher strike: A timeline of events

The main points of contention between teachers and the district are a new pay structure and higher salaries. The district’s latest offer has $20 million in new money for teachers pay, which it said would increase the average base salary by 10 percent.

The union first filed an intent to strike on Jan. 8. Two weeks later, the district made a new offer, but the union claimed it was $8 million short and allowed its contract to expire with no agreement.

The labor department did say, in its letter to Cordova on Wednesday, that if a strike should "occur or be needlessly prolonged due to bad faith or a breakdown of the current negotiations process," the state may intervene - as it may opt to do at any time.

According to the letter, the labor department intends to watch what happens next "closely." 

The department goes on to say in the letter that a strike is "an effort of last resort, and one where the ramifications are immense, unpredictable and costly." 

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