Here in Jeffco Public Schools, workers have been speaking up and organizing for better learning conditions for our students, for fiscal responsibility, and for quality, healthy food in our cafeterias. We campaigned to keep schools safe and open to students who need resources and school lunch during COVID. We have fought against the misuse of funds and resources. We have stood with our community, and we have helped to elevate the voices of parents and students. Ultimately, JESPA members are also parents, community members, and stakeholders in our public schools.
JESPA leaders have blown the whistle on policy violations by district administrators, from their mid-level managers all the way to cabinet-level “chiefs”. In response to their bravery and commitment to integrity, workers have consistently faced silencing tactics, retaliation, punishment, coercion, and poor behavior by administrators.
Over just the past two years, JESPA members have faced some high-profile wrongful terminations:
Despite the vindication in the form of the reversal of these terminations, the administrators who violated workers’ rights, including the former Chief Operating Officer, continued their pattern of targeting and retaliation, creating a workplace full of fear and intimidation. These reversals resulted in no immediate consequences for these bad actors, and they were seen as “untouchable.”
Last year, maintenance trades techs represented by JESPA filed a grievance regarding administrator violations of district policy and retaliation for whistle-blowing. When these workers demanded arbitration, Jeffco Public Schools leadership finally agreed to address the allegations of administrators’ misuse of district monies and resources. This has led to a full investigation, which found policy violations by administrators in the following areas:
- Unprofessional culture and climate
- Union busting
- Administrator inaction when made aware of policy violations
- Unprofessional and Inappropriate comments
- Unfair Hiring Practices
- Hostile work environment (discriminatory practices)
- Racial, Sexual, Unprofessional Comments
- Preferential treatment
- Retaliatory conduct
This investigation has finally led to some administrators being held accountable, although personnel actions appear to be ongoing and the investigation is continuing. JESPA will continue to share details with members and the public as they become available.
You can see the ongoing list of wins and updates for JESPA workers here: https://jeffcoespa.org/category/news/
Speaking up has come at great risk to all those who stand up for their coworkers and community. While the workers who have stood strong and challenged their terminations have won in recent years, the current system does not do enough to protect employees from retaliation. The district’s legal team has protected administrators at any cost and the Jeffco Board of Education has the ability to reject the outcomes of arbitrations they don’t like. In fact, they have consistently done so when the decision favors JESPA (until the two recent arbitration victories). And so we must turn to the court system or state and federal agencies.
Unfortunately for public sector workers like us, there are no legal protections from retaliation for collective activity at the state or federal level.
Senate Bill 23-111, the Public Employees Workplace Protection Act, would grant more protections and rights to our members and ensure other public sector workers have the right to express their views on workplace issues, engage in collective activity, and more. The bill would grant similar rights that are afforded to private sector workers under the National Labor Relations Act.
JESPA members have continued to engage in protected actions and continue to face retaliatory conduct from their supervisors. While JESPA leaders will continue to file grievances and organize against retaliation in order to stand up for what is right, this bill would make the retaliation we see from our supervisors illegal, creating more roads to justice for members. This bill would add strong legal protections for the rights to discuss or express views regarding public employee representation or workplace issues and to engage in protected, concerted activity for the purpose of mutual aid or protection.
The bill also prohibits certain public employers from discriminating against, coercing, intimidating, interfering with, or imposing reprisals against a public employee for engaging in any of the rights granted. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment would be charged with enforcing any alleged violation of these rights.
Action: Send a letter to the the Senate Appropriations Committee to let them know you support this bill. https://leg.colorado.gov/committees/appropriations/2023-regular-session