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Fighting for Union Recognition

Fighting for Union Recognition

Last December, we profiled a brave group of educators from the New America School charter system. They’re seeking to become the first charter school educators to unionize in the state of Colorado. Since then, bus assistants from Cherry Creek and Deaf/Hard of Hearing Interpreters from Littleton have joined in calling for their districts to recognize them as a union and immediately begin bargaining with them.

Cherry Creek Bus Assistants are vital in making sure our students arrive at school and return home safely every day. They are responsible for making sure the most at-risk students arrive at and depart school safely. Currently, bus assistants in the Cherry Creek School District start at a little over $14 per hour, which is nearly $2 less than the minimum wage in Denver, and $1.50 less per hour than their counterparts in Aurora and Littleton. For context, the King Soopers workers who won their strike against the grocery chain this past year negotiated a starting wage of $16 per hour in 2022.

In addition to the low pay, experienced assistants have not seen their pay increase even as the starting wage has increased. The most senior Bus Assistant with over 20 years of experience in the Cherry Creek School District makes less than $20/hr.

Bus Assistants are demanding that the Cherry Creek School District show respect by voluntarily recognizing them as a union, giving them a seat at the table. They demand that the district work with their union on pay, benefits and working conditions. They demand that their pay be competitive with other metro area school districts and that they be reclassified as Bus Assistants rather than as paraprofessionals as they are now.

In March, Deaf/Hard of Hearing Interpreters (all seven of them!) unanimously agreed to form a union and ask the Littleton School Board for recognition. The Interpreters are vital in making sure that all students are able to learn in a safe and welcoming environment, and are able to learn the skills they need to advocate for themselves in life. Yet, they are treated as disposable by the district, with little input in how they do their jobs and support their students, extremely high turnover rates, and little pay.

“All educators and public employees should have the fundamental right to form a union in the state of Colorado,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, high school counselor and CEA president. “We’re at a tipping point in time where educators are ready to leave the profession and not having a say in their workplace is a big reason. The 39,000 members of the CEA stand in solidarity with the educators in NAS, bus assistants in Cherry Creek and the interpreters in Littleton and we pledge to support in any way we can to help them achieve recognition.”

All three groups have an incredibly uphill battle to fight to win recognition as unions. The New America School board has already rejected the NAS teachers’ bid to become a union and they are moving into the next phase of their organizing plan. Both the Cherry Creek and Littleton school districts are dragging their feet in hopes that the Bus Assistants and Sign Language Interpreters lose their will to continue.

Furthermore, in this year’s legislative session, a watered-down collective bargaining bill for Colorado county workers made its way through the Colorado state legislature but it does not include K-12 entities and actually strips some protections away from county employees such as the right to strike.

The time to stand with our colleagues and fight is now. Please watch your social media and CEA communications for opportunities to take action to support these brave educators.

Collage of photos from different actions organized by Littleton interpreters, Cherry Creek bus assistants, and New America School educators

Member Spotlight: Eileen Lovell

Member Spotlight: Eileen Lovell

Photo of Eileen Lovell smiling at the cameraThis June, we congratulate one of Pueblo County School District 70’s most treasured teachers, Eileen Lovell, as she retires after 32 years.

She began her teaching career in the district right out of college and for the past five years, she has been teaching the district’s Home Hospital Students who are those students who are too medically fragile to attend regular school. She travels to their homes and teaches them in their home environment so that they can still receive a quality public education without putting themselves at risk.

“I have been blessed to be able to teach these students for the past five years,” said Lovell. “Less than 2 years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and thought I would have to quit my job but my students and their families became my biggest cheerleaders throughout my fight. They were my inspiration to beat this horrific disease and I learned what courage was from them.”

Eileen was an “Army Brat”, born in Germany and growing up in Hawai’i before her family finally put down roots in Pueblo West, Colorado. She wasn’t sure what she was going to major in college but she had taught swim lessons for several years and she also had amazing, patient teachers growing up who were great role models, so teaching seemed the natural choice. She knew during student teaching that she had picked a great career.

She was a member of her union on day one of her teaching career. She knew that the teachers before her fought hard for their contract. After eight years of membership, she became a building association representative. She then served for three years as the president of the Pueblo County Teachers Association, where she helped combine the classified and certified union after the district did not want to recognize the classified union. The two unions became one: the Pueblo County Education Association. She has also been on the union bargaining team for the past 12 years.

After 32 years, she will miss her students but will enjoy “riding into the sunset”, which will include travel, outdoor activities and reading on a beach somewhere in Hawai’i.

CEA Media Release: Cherry Creek bus assistants stand up for union rights at board meeting

MEDIA RELEASE
June 13, 2022
Contact: Linda He, LHe@coloradoea.org, ‭(720) 498-0928‬

Cherry Creek bus assistants stand up for union rights at board meeting
Demand to be included in transportation union unit

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, COLO. – Tonight nearly 50 bus assistants who work with special education students and their allies demanded union rights at the Cherry Creek School District board meeting. After three months of stonewalling by board members, a draft policy was finally on the agenda, although the board did not vote on it. Nearly 80 percent of bus assistants have signed union cards.

“I’m committed to working with our most vulnerable students but even after more than 20 years, in this job I earn less than $20 an hour. I have to live with my mom because it’s not a living wage,” said Heather Music, a Cherry Creek bus assistant. “We’re here tonight to stand up for ourselves and our students so that our union is recognized, just like it is in other metro districts.”

Cherry Creek Bus Assistants United gave public comment in support of a policy that would resolve disputes during the recognition process, so that workers would not have to wait a year before further negotiations. Workers would like to ensure that the Cherry Creek School Board passes a policy that will not only allow them to be recognized as a union, but provide a pathway for future unions in Cherry Creek.

“I have worked as a bus assistant for nearly 14 years, and year after year I have seen very insignificant increases to my pay – sometimes as low as 11 cents an hour,” said Tina Brown, a Cherry Creek bus assistant. “This is why we are demanding a union in order to bargain for meaningful pay increases, so more assistants can afford to stay in this profession and provide consistency for our students.”

As required by law, bus assistants work exclusively with special education students, handling medication and managing behavior and other needs during transport to and from school. Cherry Creek bus assistants are seeking to be included in the Cherry Creek Transportation Employees Association unit and to have union recognition just like bus assistants in other metro districts, like Jefferson County, Boulder Valley and Westminster.

Cherry Creek bus assistants rallying together

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The Colorado Education Association is the voice of 39,000 educators, working together in a strong union to ensure all students get the exceptional public schools they deserve, in every neighborhood across the state. As Colorado’s largest labor union, CEA works collectively with all education stakeholders to ensure Colorado’s standing as an excellent state in which to learn, live, work, and raise a family.

The Highs and Lows of the 2022 Legislative Session

The Highs and Lows of the 2022 Legislative Session

It’s May and that means two things: the school year is winding down and the Colorado Legislative Session has reached its conclusion. This was the first full, in-person Legislative Session since 2019.

This was a challenging legislative session in many ways, but we are proud of the collective work of the over 39,000 members of the CEA who helped us to victory on several important pieces of legislation and helped us defeat other harmful bills. Overall, in this legislative session, we were able to make significant advances for students, educators and public education.

Our Legislative Priorities heading into session were focused on the following:

  • Collective Bargaining
  • Funding
  • PERA
  • Accountability Bridge

For more on our pre-legislative session priorities, please visit our State of Education report, which was published in December 2021.

Here is a summary of the bills that the Colorado Education Association were involved with in the 2022 Legislative Session:

House Bill (HB) 22-1029, Compensatory Direct Distribution to Public Employees’ Retirement Association. CEA supported this bill, sponsored by Reps. Shannon Bird, Shane Sandridge, Sens. Chris Kolker and Kevin Priola, because it would recommit the state’s 2020 missed payment into the PERA system of $225 million. Additionally, the legislature is adding an additional $155 million as a pre-payment.

HB22-1066, Public Education Curriculum and Professional Development. CEA helped defeat this bill, sponsored by Rep. Tim Geitner, which was a draconian solution in search of a problem — educators and schools are already incredibly transparent about their curriculum. This bill would have put burdensome requirements on already overworked and exhausted educators. CEA was able to defeat this policy at the state legislature and from getting on the ballot.

HB22-1069, Parent Authority to Request Public School Reforms. Another bill CEA helped defeat, sponsored by Rep. Rod Bockenfeld and Sen. Kevin Priola, was part of a nationwide campaign labeled as “parent’s rights”. Instead, they are, in essence, tactics that serve to undermine and dismantle public education and further sow distrust of educators and school leaders, at the expense of what best serves our students.

HB22-1106, Concealed Handguns on School Grounds. The annual gun bill, introduced every session, was defeated by a reasonable coalition of stakeholders who know that the answer to ending gun violence in schools is not the addition of more guns in schools. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Neville, was defeated in the House Committee on State, Civic, Military, & Veterans Affairs.

HB22-1203, Income Tax Credits for Nonpublic Education. This is one of many voucher bills CEA defeated this session. While the bills took different approaches, they were all an effort to privatize public education. And while it may prove useful to some students, these bills failed to provide a solution for all of the 900,000 students that are part of our public education system. In short, it is another scheme to take from the many and give to the few. This bill was sponsored by Rep. Ron Hanks and was soundly defeated in the House Education committee.

HB22-1206, Prohibit Discriminatory Practices in Schools. This is another bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Williams, that was defeated and is part of a nationwide campaign to distract from the very real issues our schools continue to face. These bills do nothing to address the very real problems that need to be addressed to support our students and our educators. This bill is about politics. It is an attempt by certain members of this legislative body to rewrite our shared history in a way that isn’t an honest and complete reflection of events that have shaped our nation and our state.

HB22-1207, Choice in Low-Performing School Districts. This is another voucher bill, sponsored by Rep. Dan Woog, that was defeated in the House Education committee.

HB22-1236, Parent’s Bill of Rights. This is another bill from the “parents’ rights” movement, sponsored by Rep. Tonya Van Beber, that was defeated in the House Committee on Health & Insurance.

HB22-1329, the Long Bill. The School Finance Act, HB22-1390 sets a statewide base per pupil for 2022-23 at $7,478, an increase by $252, which accounts for 3.5% inflation. It sets total program funding for 2022-23 to be no less than $8.4B. This is after the current Budget Stabilization factor impact, which is $321M after the buydown of $182M this year. In addition to a significant buy down of the BS Factor, CEA demanded a clean School Finance Act and was successfully able to push back against the inclusion of harmful and unrelated policies in the bill.

Senate Bill (SB) 22-039, Funding for Educational Opportunities. This is another voucher bill, sponsored by Sens. Paul Lundeen and Barbara Kirkmeyer, that was soundly defeated by CEA in the Senate Education Committee.

SB22-069, Learning Disruption Effect on Teacher Evaluation. Sponsored by Sen. Tammy Story, Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Meg Froelich, this bill will provide educators a two year grace period against high stakes testing being used against their evaluations and ensure that educators are not held accountable for poor academic growth measures resulting from the pandemic emergency. Disruptions to learning during the pandemic did and will continue to have an impact on student performance and educators should not be held responsible for circumstances entirely outside of their control.

SB22-070, Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade Licensed Personnel Performance Evaluations. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bridges and Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Julie McCluskie, is the result of the Governor’s 2019 stakeholder process and represents a compromise reform. While it does not go as far as CEA and many members would like, this bill does reduce the percentage of an educator’s evaluation that can be based off of student growth measures from 50% to 30%, as well as provides modified evaluation rubrics and additional resources for districts, among other things. CEA worked hard with the Governor’s Office and the sponsors to add additional beneficial provisions including an educator’s ability to request a different evaluator and consideration for the chronic absenteeism of their students. While there is more to be done in this space, SB22-70 represents a good step forward and will provide some immediate relief to CEA members.

SB22-071, Learning Pods for Home-School Programs. This is another “parents’ rights” bill, sponsored by Sen. Rob Woodward, that was soundly defeated in the Senate Education Committee.

SB22-137, Transition Back to Standard K-12 Accountability. Sponsored by Sens. Rachel Zenzinger and Don Coram and Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Mary Young, this bill would make adjustments to the school accountability system to make sure hundreds of schools aren’t unfairly placed on the accountability clock due to insufficient data. SB 22-137 passed earlier in the session and was signed by the Governor on April 13, 2022.

SB22-171, Privacy Protections for Educators. Educators have increasingly been on the receiving end of bitter political vitriol that has become common across the state and nation. Sponsored by Sens. Jeff Bridges and Kevin Priola and Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Cathy Kipp, this bill will protect educators from doxing by members of the public. It will also prohibit school districts from releasing the dates of sick leave taken by educators to address situations like what happened in Douglas County.

SB22-230, Collective Bargaining for Counties. We are disappointed that we will not see a collective bargaining bill that provides protected rights to educators across Colorado. However, we can also say that we are proud that we stood strong against settling for just anything, and we held strong to the principles put forward by the CEA Board of Directors. We ensured that nothing would move forward that would diminish the current rights of public school educators. From the beginning, we knew that this would be a heavy lift and that passing a broad collective bargaining bill could be something that would take more than one legislative session. We remain committed to continuing to work on educating and advocating to the Governor, legislative leaders and legislators about the need for a uniform statewide collective bargaining law until a collective bargaining law exists for all educators. This narrowed bill, sponsored by Sens. Steve Fenberg and Dominick Moreno and Rep. Daneya Esgar passed both chambers and headed to the Governor’s desk for signature.

SJR22-011, Parents’ Right to be Involved in Child’s Education. This is another “parents’ rights” bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Gardner and Rep. Tonya Van Beber, that was defeated in the Senate Committee on State, Veterans, & Military Affairs.

This session truly was a mix of highs and lows and we didn’t get everything we wanted. We did, however, make life better for Colorado students, their families and educators all across the state.

Let’s take a breather, regroup and gear up for the midterm elections so we can help elect pro-public education candidates in the fall who will stand with us as we continue to advocate for the schools that all students and educators deserve.

CEA Media Release: Solid Victories and Missed Opportunities Highlight the 2022 Legislative Session

CONTACT
Frank Valdez
Colorado Education Association
fvaldez@coloradoea.org
(720) 372-8888 Cell

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 12, 2022

Solid Victories and Missed Opportunities Highlight the 2022 Legislative Session
CEA now turns attention to 2022 midterm elections

DENVER – With the 2022 Legislative Session in the books, the 39,000 members of the Colorado Education Association played a key role in advancing consequential legislation that improved the lives of Colorado students and educators this session. The session fell a bit short in some areas but overall, public education in Colorado is better today than it was in 2021.

“We had a bold agenda when we published our State of Education report in December and we definitely improved the lives of Colorado students and educators as we end this session,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association. “Did we achieve everything we set out to achieve? No but we made significant progress with evaluations, educator privacy, shoring up PERA and significantly buying down the Budget Stabilization Factor. We made significant strides and every one of our 39,000 members made a difference.”

Among key victories by the union this year was a significant buy down of the Budget Stabilization Factor to its lowest level in well over a decade to $321 million, with the real promise of buying it completely down by 2024. This was one of CEA’s main priorities heading into the session as a graduating senior in 2022 had never seen a fully funded public education system.

Other key victories include House Bill (HB) 22-1029, Compensatory Direct Distribution to Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which recommit the state’s 2020 missed payment into the PERA system of $225 million and an additional $155 million as a pre-payment. SB22-069, Learning Disruption Effect on Teacher Evaluation, which provides educators a two-year grace period against high stakes testing being used against their evaluations and ensures that educators are not held accountable for poor academic growth measures resulting from the pandemic emergency. SB22-070, Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade Licensed Personnel Performance Evaluations, is the result of the Governor’s 2019 stakeholder process and represents a compromise reform. While it does not go as far as CEA and many members would like, this bill does reduce the percentage of an educator’s evaluation that can be based off of student growth measures from 50% to 30%, as well as provides modified evaluation rubrics and additional resources for districts, among other things. SB 22-137, Transition Back to Standard K-12 Accountability makes adjustments to the school accountability system to make sure hundreds of schools aren’t unfairly placed on the accountability clock due to insufficient data. Finally, SB22-171, Privacy Protections for Educators protects educators from doxing, the release of educators’ personal, identifiable information on the internet, by members of the public. It will also prohibit school districts from releasing the dates of sick leave taken by educators to address situations like what happened in Douglas County.

“We’re disappointed that K-12 wasn’t a part of this year’s attempt at a statewide collective bargaining bill but we will continue to make that a priority for all of Colorado’s public workers,” said Baca-Oehlert. “We can, however, hold our heads high in knowing that we significantly improved the lives of Colorado students, their families and educators in 2022. We’d like to carry this momentum into the fall election cycle where we will work tirelessly to elect pro-public education candidates to help us make more of an impact in the 2023 Legislative Session.”

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About the Colorado Education Association
The Colorado Education Association is the voice of 39,000 educators, working together in a strong union to ensure all students get the exceptional public schools they deserve, in every neighborhood across the state. As Colorado’s largest labor union, CEA works collectively with all education stakeholders to ensure Colorado’s standing as an excellent state in which to learn, live, work, and raise a family.