Pueblo City Schools teachers who go on strike Monday could be risking their pay and benefits, according to a letter sent to all District 60 employees Wednesday morning. The letter, obtained by News 5, was sent to all D60 employees by the district’s Executive Director of Human Resources and states, in part, "Effective immediately, members of the professional staff who use excused leave to participate in either ‘sick-outs’or a strike will be subject to a full salary deduction for each day of absence based on the staff member’s current daily rate of pay. Also, during any period of salary deduction, staff members will be subject to a suspension of benefits."
The letter begins by reminding staff that "the use of excused leave to engage in ‘sick-outs’ likely constituted a misuse of leave." Whether or not the district can actually withhold pay and benefits isn’t entirely clear. "The employer can’t just unilaterally decide what disciplinary action to enforce against the teachers," said Durant Davidson, an attorney with the McDivitt Law Firm. "They can’t just be unilaterally disciplined without a right to be heard." Davidson says the teachers are protected by due process rules in teacher tenure laws.
However, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against a group of Denver teachers earlier this year after they sued over unpaid leave. The court based the ruling on Colorado’s system of educator job protections, which in the court’s determination "provides for neither ‘tenure’ nor ‘permanent teachers.’" That case did not deal with union-organized labor stoppages, so it is unclear whether it could be applied in this case. "Based on my review of the existing law, it seems highly doubtful that that would be enforceable," Davidson said.
In spite of the threat, Suzanne Ethredge, president of the Pueblo Education Association, says she isn’t worried. "Personally, I can’t say that it really scares me," Ethredge said. "It’s not really that unexpected from management to send a letter like that."