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Why we shouldn't be surprised by the teacher strike in Pueblo

Teacher strikes don't just happen.
Screenshot: KOAA video

Pueblo teachers are going back to school on Saturday, despite being on strike all week.

The strike isn't over, but the teachers' union and the bargaining team from Pueblo District 60 are set to meet face-to-face to discuss the district's latest offer.

Pueblo teachers went on strike on Monday after rejecting the offer from D-60 that would have paid the teachers two-point-25 percent more starting in September. That would bring the teacher salary range to $36,070 - $74,879. The district also offered a one-time two percent bonus ($705 - $1,464) or $1,000 for each teacher equally.

The union rejected that offer.

Teachers had asked for a two percent raise retroactive to the start of the 2017-18 school year, then they wanted to negotiate salaries for 2018-19.

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When teachers went on strike on Monday, it wasn't a snap decision.

Their contract actually spells out what has to happen before a strike is legally allowed.

"When you initially negotiate a contract, that process for bargaining and the steps that are followed if bargaining were to break down, are outlined in the contract," said Colorado Education Association Vice President Amie Baca-Oehlert.


The first step is collective bargaining.

The contract, and most teachers' union contracts, include a provision for when negotiations can be begin.

The contract for D-60 teachers said:

Written request for negotiations between the Board and the Association may be submitted by either party. Such requests shall be directed to the designated representatives of the parties. The request shall occur no earlier than January 15 or no later than February 1.

It later said the meeting had to happen "on or about February 15."

"Each side has a bargaining team," said Baca-Oehlert.

She said the teachers' union team would be made up of union staff and teachers, while the district would have administrators and school principals.

The D-60 teachers' union were working on an expired contract since the end of the 2016 school year, when an agreement couldn't be reached.

"Their contract has terms in it for the next steps once bargaining breaks down, so there's things like mediation, fact finding," said Baca-Oehlert.


Mediation is spelled out in the contract as well.

Both the teachers' union and the district are supposed to exchange five names of acceptable mediators. If they can't agree on one within five days, the American Arbitration Association provides a list of five names to choose from. If an agreement isn't made after mediation, the next step is hiring a fact finder.


"It's kind of like a hearing, where they present facts, information, their side," said Baca-Oehlert.

The fact finder takes the information from both the teachers' union and the school district and comes to a conclusion.

"The ruling of the fact finder is not final. They don't have to accept it," said Baca-Oehlert.

The fact finder determined that the school district was capable of offering a two percent retroactive raise to the teachers, despite the district saying it could cause its reserves to drop too low.

"Yes, basically the fact finder came to the conclusion that we agree with the side of the teachers and we believe that you do have the resources to provide what they are asking for," said Baca-Oehlert.

The teachers' union voted in agreement with the fact finder. The school board voted it down 3-2.


The union then notified the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment of its intent to strike, which is legally required. The Department of Labor and Employment notifies the school district, which has 10 days to respond. The district responded on the last day and did not seek intervention.

The notification from the teachers' union did not ask for intervention either.

Since neither side asked for help, the Department of Labor and Employment did not intervene.

"The Colorado Department of Labor has the choice to intervene or not intervene, and because the Department of Labor chose not to intervene, that allowed them to go on strike," said Baca-Oehlert.

Teachers could not legally strike before going through each of these steps.

The last time the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment intervened in a teacher strike was in 1998, with Pueblo District 60 and the same teachers' union. That intervention led to an agreement for the 1998-99 school year.

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