Teachers in the Loveland-based Thompson School District could see their union eliminated by the conservative majority Board of Education, after the Colorado Court of Appeals decided Thursday to freeze an order that would have protected the union.
It’s the latest in the fight between the Thompson Education Association, which represents more than 70 percent of teachers in the district, and the Thompson Board of Education.
Teachers have been in the classroom without a contract since the beginning of the 2015-16 school year. That’s because the board, which has a 4-3 conservative majority, has three times rejected contracts negotiated between the union and the board’s own negotiators.
After the third rejection, and an independent arbitrator’s report that said the board was not acting in good faith, the union took the board to court under a breach-of-contract claim. They also sought an injunction, an order that would keep in place the 2014-15 contract until a new one could be worked out.
But that isn’t the direction the board plans to take. Several board members have stated they want to get rid of the union, and the failed negotiations were the start of their process for doing just that. The board is following in the footsteps of two other districts at odds with teachers: Jefferson County, where a hotly-contested recall election is just days away; and Douglas County, where the conservative board majority got rid of its teachers’ union about three years ago.
In September, a Larimer District Court judge granted a preliminary injunction requested by the Thompson Education Association. The order said the board could not change any of its policies, including the one that states the union is the only group that can represent teachers at the bargaining table.
On Oct 2, the three-member Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the order. But on Thursday, on a 2-1 vote, the Appeals Court instead said they believed the school district would have a good chance of winning an appeal on the order. Even if the union won the breach-of-contract claim, a lower court judge probably couldn’t order an extension of the 2014-15 contract, according to the court opinion.
The fight isn’t over, by a long shot. The court still has before it an appeal from the School District to deal with. The court promised “in due time” to look at the merits of that appeal.
The one vote in favor of upholding the order came from Judge John Webb, who said teachers could suffer “irreparable injury” because the union would lose its status as the exclusive bargaining representative, and the Larimer District Court would not be able to give the union any relief other than damages.
But the hold on the injunction may be a moot point, anyway. The Thompson Board of Education is not scheduled to meet again until after the November 3 election. Four of the seven seats on the board are up for election, which could decide whether the conservative majority holds or not.
Photo credit: Ewe Neon, Creative Commons, Flickr.