On June 20 attorneys for the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT) filed a request with the Colorado Department of Labor to intervene in its dispute with the school board. It's not your run-of-the-mill labor dispute, either. As I pointed out here earlier, the challenge is to the existence of the union's monopoly power and its ability to help fund the union's national and state political arms.
Five weeks have passed since the initial request, with the union and board have exchanged responses to the labor department, the clock is still ticking. What is Hick going to do? Labor Department executive director Ellen Golombek's longstanding ties to the AFL-CIO — the DCFT's mother union — have been well established. But ultimately the decision rests with her boss, Governor John Hickenlooper.
One way or the other, he's very likely to act soon. In some Douglas County schools, new teacher orientation starts a week from today (August 1), with kids back in class by the following Monday. A majority of Dougco schools start a week later. Is there any reason to let the question hang over everyone's heads as the state's third-largest school district gets back to the business of education?
During this year's historic open negotiations, union leaders conceded to many of the district's requests — commonsense requests that are not too common in K-12 education labor policy and agreements. By the time the intervention request was filed, DCFT had backtracked on a few issues and decided they would disagree after all. One has to imagine national union leaders didn't want to set a precedent that could impact their pocketbook in other places, too.
With the collective bargaining agreement no longer in effect, DCSD no longer underwrites unaccountable union officials with taxpayer funds. And DCSD no longer collects dues for the union political apparatus. The end of automatic government dues collection likely will cut into the organization's membership rolls and revenues.
Lest we forget, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) pours millions a year into liberal groups, while its Colorado political committee consistently spends 100% of teacher funds on Democratic candidates and causes.
One of those candidates? John Hickenlooper, who directly received the maximum $10,000 from AFT Colorado during his bid for governor. No other candidate came close to receiving as much from the state's second largest teachers union. Given the sizable campaign donation, intervening on the organization's behalf to try to restore its monopoly power and dues-collecting privilege would create an apparent conflict of interest.
Intervention would signal a contrast with the ethical approach Governor Hickenlooper took two weeks ago in demanding all 10 of his public trustees resign due to “questionable spending practices.” His code of good government honor suggests the need in the Dougco case to set a higher standard and to avoid apparent conflicting interests.
Hick could attempt to rescue a political contributor in this situation, or he could let officials and educators work it out locally. Why protect the automatic conduit of funds into AFT's coffers when another independent voice could still emerge among teachers? Why risk a well-crafted reputation?
Stay tuned. This could be one of the Hickenlooper administration's first decisions of real political significance.