In its negotiations with the Douglas County Board of Education, it appears that the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCF) finds itself with fewer and fewer options, absent the possibility of friendly hearing in front of Ellen Golombek, the former AFL-CIO and SEIU veteran who heads the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE).
At the last and final open negotiating session on June 8, DCF head Brenda Smith explicitly stated that while she wasn’t happy about the Board ending dues collection – or its view of the full-time employment status of union heads – she wasn’t going to hold up contract negotiations over these points. The union did reserve the right to take legal action pending the Board’s action in actually implementing those changes. [See the videos above and below for more.]
The Board, in its response, said that, in effect, that meant there was no agreement on those points. At the time, some were calling these statements union concessions. While we agreed that they were made from a position of weakness rather than strength, we weren’t so quick to spike the football on this one. Turns out, there was good reason for our skepticism.
In a letter to the Board last Friday morning, the union is clearly preparing for a fight, if not in court, then on the union-friendly turf of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) or the CDLE. In that letter (see the bottom of this post for the whole thing), they claim that 1) the district’s unwillingness to retain full-time union heads as “teachers,” constitutes an “unwarranted interference” in the union’s ability to choose its own leadership, which would violate 29 U.S.C. § 157 under 29 U.S.C. § 158.
The idea is risible that any court would find the idea that the District is unwilling to stick the taxpayers of Colorado with the unfunded liability of a union head’s retirement somehow constitutes an interference in that union’s ability to choose its leadership. But there’s no telling what the CDLE would do.
It appears the union is not seriously considering a court challenge (or would only go to court first in order to prepare the ground for their CDLE case), since it has abandoned its notion of a First Amendment challenge to the end of dues collection by the district. The term, “no legally cognizable justification” is essentially code for: we think you’re wrong, but darned if we can find any actual law to support us on that.
It does get used from time to time in court cases, but you can see why judges might be reluctant to accept that reasoning. It’s entirely possible that the union was forced to that conclusion, however, by last week’s Supreme Court ruling against the SEIU in California.