Senate Committee Torpedoes Bill to Allow Teachers to Opt-Out of Unions

May 6, 2012

The bill would have allowed teachers to end automatic payroll deductions for union dues after giving 30 days written notice to their employer

DENVER – A Senate committee scuttled legislation on Friday that would have allowed teachers to opt-out of union membership at any time and for any reason.  The party line vote against the bill came during an early morning hearing with virtually no testimony or debate.

House Bill 1333 would have allowed teachers to end automatic payroll deductions for union dues after giving 30 days written notice to their employer. The legislation would have also required teachers unions to provide an annual financial disclosure to teachers paying union dues.

The Colorado Education Association (CEA), which calls itself a “voluntary membership organization” and is an affiliate of the National Education Association, lobbied against the legislation on grounds that it violated the Colorado State Constitution’s “local control” provision for education and section 11 of the state’s Bill of Rights, which protects against most retroactive laws and the impairment of current contracts.

According to CEA public relations director Mike Wetzel, “The Colorado Constitution provides that school districts have the power to direct, among other things, their own labor relations thru the ‘local control’ provision. The proposed legislation is in direct violation of that provision because it attempts to strip local school districts of those rights and limits their powers.”

But some constitutional experts dispute Wetzel’s claims against the constitutionality of the proposed law.  “The ‘obligation of contracts’ clause appears in the section labeled ‘ex post facto,’ and has no plausibility regarding state legislation which sets the terms for contracts which will be created sometime in the future,” said Dave Kopel, a constitutional law professor at the University of Denver.

Kopel elaborated on the “local control” provision, explaining that while the provision’s “control of instruction” clause applies to more than just curriculum, “it seems rather fanciful to argue that a school board’s ‘control of instruction” includes capturing part of an employee’s salary and giving that money to a private third party against the employee’s wishes.’”  Kopel also told Media Trackers that the “local control” case law in Colorado “does not grant school districts absolute immunity from legislative regulation of employee relations.”

While CEA lobbied against the teacher opt-out legislation, the Professional Association of Colorado Educators (PACE) testified in support of the measure.  PACE, a non-union teachers association, has stated that “if a taxpayer‐funded payroll deduction service is used” it would make sense that “the state government ensures that there is accountability and fairness in the process.”

According to PACE’s fact sheet on the bill, CEA is currently able to dictate an opt-out window of about three weeks with no requirement to advertise the window, essentially forcing teachers to pay union dues the entire year.

PACE also noted the arbitrary manner in which teacher associations are granted or denied the payroll deduction service due to state law being silent on the matter. Tim Farmer, a senior PACE official, cited an example in Jefferson County where they requested payroll deduction on behalf of their members and were denied, even after PACE offered to pay the district for the cost of processing.

The legislation was voted down by Sen. Rollie Heath (D-SD18), Sen. Bob Bacon (D-SD14), and Sen. Betty Boyd (D-SD21), all of whom relied heavily on donations from CEA and its affiliates according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics (NIMSP).

This article provided courtesy of, a conservative non-profit, non-partisan investigative watchdog dedicated to promoting accountability in the media and government across Colorado through cutting edge research and communications initiatives. 

The original article can be found here.

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