District 12 – Educators and Allies Win in Pueblo

In May, with backing from the community, parents, union members and our families, more than 900 teachers represented by the Pueblo Education Association, voted to go on strike for the first time in 25 years!

Pueblo City School District (PCSD) teachers were seeking a 2 percent cost-of-living increase and increased contributions to their healthcare to address disparate pay issues that have plagued the district for years. Even though these improvements were consistent with the recommendation of a third-party, an independent fact finder, the school district was baulking until they saw the support that teachers were getting from the community.

“If we honestly believe our kids and grandkids deserve the best teachers, then we have to offer decent pay and benefits to make teachers want to come here,” says Joel Buchanan, a retired USW member who joined fellow steelworkers supporting the striking teachers. Joel is a 43-year USW member and retiree from Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel (formerly Oregon Steel).

In 2017-2018, PCSD teachers were paid an average of $47,617 according to the Colorado Department of Education. That comes out to 10 percent below the average teacher’s pay statewide, and nearly 22 percent less than what teachers are paid nationally.

Stagnant pay has contributed to difficulties filling open teaching positions across Pueblo City School District. Teacher turnover hovers around 20 percent, and teachers like Joel’s son, Kevin, who teaches at Central High School in Pueblo, have found themselves spending more of their own income each month to purchase school supplies for their students.

After two years of working without a contract, teachers at PCSD had reached their boiling point. The strike was approved by a nearly-unanimous 95 percent of teachers voting. However, support for the walkout did not end there. Steelworkers from locals 2102 and 3267 at Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel, and SOAR activists showed up on the picket lines to support the teachers. And, the Denver Post reported that local firefighters dropped off water to striking teachers.

Although the school district had brought in substitute teachers to staff classrooms, parents refused to cross picket lines. Instead, they brought burritos to their kids’ striking teachers.

After two days of picketing and holding candlelight vigils outside of the homes of Pueblo’s school board members and superintendent, representatives of Pueblo City School District agreed to reconvene negotiations after they cancelled a public meeting a few days prior. Within 24 hours, the teachers were awarded their cost-of-living increases plus the increases in healthcare they had originally requested.

The School Board also conceded to not penalize students by adding days to the end of the school year or by docking teachers’ pay for the days of the strike.


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