Denver Teachers' Union Voting This Week on New Compensation Agreement

Today, February 19, teachers' union members will begin voting on the new contract agreed to last week by the union and Denver Public Schools negotiating teams.

Union representatives say they are confident their members will largely support the tentative agreement, which brought the first Denver teachers strike in 25 years to an end on February 14 after three days. They say they are also excited about the opportunities that will come out of the new contract.

"I’m going to vote yes because we went into these negotiations asking for a payment system that was fair and transparent... . This contract does appear fair and transparent. It provides teachers with a livable salary in the city that they serve," says Kurt Scheumann, a teacher and union representative at South High School.

Yasiris Torres, a Spanish teacher and union representative at George Washington High School, is also voting for the agreement.

"I’ll be voting yes, because increasing predictability of base salary and having twenty steps [to grow salary] is a big deal," says Torres.

But not all union members support the agreement. According to Scheumann, those who might vote against it fall into two camps: those who are upset that teachers won't receive full back pay from the days they missed while striking, and those who feel the new contract still won't compensate them fairly.

The district released a statement explaining why striking teachers wouldn't receive back pay:

Superintendent Cordova understands that when teachers make the choice to strike, they are doing so to make a statement and bring attention to the importance of the issue at hand. Foregoing pay during the time that a teacher is not working is a challenging decision that no one makes lightly, and consequently brings with it an impact that is intended to push for change.

DPS did not feel that it would be fair or appropriate to provide back pay to striking teachers when many others – including more than 40% of classroom teachers – chose to remain at work last week. However, DPS is working with the DCTA to offer all teachers the opportunity to attend a Saturday session to replace the professional development day that was cancelled in the days leading up to the strike. Any teacher who attends will be paid a day’s salary.

Scheumann says that those complaining about missing two days of salary are misguided.

"Two days of lost wages are a drop in the bucket compared to what we now have the opportunity to make over the course of our careers," he says. "I’ll be out five or six hundred bucks. That’ll make this month and maybe next month kinda tight. But once I get over that microscopic hit, it will definitely have been worth it to have taken two days unpaid for a financially stable future.

"I wish people who are considering voting no would really think about the tremendous victory that we just shared," he continues. "We were David and the district was Goliath. And we won this fight. I hope that people aren’t willing to squander that victory because they’re not as thrilled as other people because of what their salary will be next year."

The union and the district had been bargaining since November 2017 over DPS's compensation system. Teachers wanted one that relies less on fluctuating bonuses and more on base salary. With this new agreement, teachers will both increase their base salaries by between 7 and 11 percent and have a more transparent system for growing their salaries, union representatives say.

Voting on the new agreement will last from this evening through Sunday, February 24, and the results will be announced on February 25. The school board would formally ratify the contract.

For teachers who want to learn more about the details of the agreement, the union is holding an information session at 5 p.m. today at Riverside Baptist Church
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.