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Almost Union Free: ACLU, Union Caught in Reform Kill Plot

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Emails obtained by Townhall Finance show that a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU in attempt to stop school reform measures in Colorado was really the brainchild of the American Federation of Teachers, the statewide teachers’ union affiliate of the AFL-CIO. In an email to Smith, Smith’s union capos, Courtney Smith and Jennie Peek-Dunstone [eye roll], George Merritt, a senior strategist with OnSight Communications, a local political consulting firm, writes about the ACLU’s decision to sue the district: “I think this is another scenario where we need to keep our cards close to the vest and let the ACLU do what it does. So far, this is playing out exactly as you all planned, so congrats.”[Editor’s emphasis]


The implication is that the ACLU and the local union have cooperated jointly in an attempt to kill school reform measures, despite disavowals by the union’s president Brenda Smith. A substantial portion of Ms. Smith salary and the salaries of her union staffers were paid for directly by the taxpayers of the school district at the same time they were plotting to kill reform.  

In fact, Smith applauded reform measures as they were passed. In response to the district passing a voucher program aimed at expanding school choice- the very program the ACLU sued the district over- Smith had this to say:   

“We applaud the district and teachers for working collaboratively … to ensure money will not leave a budget with scarce resources, holds all participating schools accountable and provides an equal opportunity for all our students,” teachers union President Brenda Smith said in a written statement according to “We will continue to monitor its implementation.”

It appears from the email that the union was coached by Merritt to execute a strategy that kept the union out of the limelight, while union officials on the public dole stage-managed efforts at destroying reform measures, including school vouchers, charters schools, merit pay, fiscal transparency and open union negotiations.


“This is disappointing. This is exactly why PLR called for open district-union negotiations,” said Karin Piper, executive director of Parent Led Reform (PLR), a local parents’ group that supports reform measures. “Too often parents, teachers, children and taxpayers have no voice at the table. And we end up with crooked deals that have more to do with politics than policy.”              

Merritt’s firm, OnSight Communications, is run by the former campaign manager of Colorado’s Democrat governor, the so-called “business-friendly” John Hickenlooper. Colorado seems to have a never-ending supply of “business-friendly” Democrat governors with deep ties to unions… and who only serve one term.  See Ritter, Bill.       

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Douglas County school district expelled the local teachers union after the union and the district failed to reach on agreement on a new contract.

The union has asked the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), controlled by- you guessed it- “business-friendly” Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper, to intervene in the dispute on behalf of the union although the CDLE has no authority to do so.

The matter is supposedly resting on the desk of Hickenlooper right now.


Hickenlooper is probably saying, “Do you have a pen?”

 “Governor Hickenlooper ought to recuse himself from deliberations in these extra legal matters,” said PLR’s Piper. “First, he has no authority under the law to intervene. This is a local matter for the school district to decide; secondly, his campaign manager owns the firm that is advising the union. If Hickenlooper intervenes here, he can intervene in any labor dispute, against any business in the state.”       

Additionally, last week a local blog, Colorado Peak Politics, reported that Hickenlooper received $10,000 for his last campaign from the union.      

The main issue between the district and the union was the union’s insistence on being the sole bargaining agents for the teachers. The district, in the interest of transparency, wanted other professional teacher associations to be able to appear at the bargaining table.

But also at issue were years of venality, self-dealing and conflicts of interest routinely engaged in by the union and the school district.

In 2009, the district faced severe budget shortfalls, in part, because previous union contracts were fudged in order to make it appear that the pupil growth in the county was going to rise faster than could reasonably expected.


For the union, it was a win at the time the contract was approved because they could point to the out-years of the contract while the union president got the district to agree to pay a portion of what was believed to be a six-figure union salary out of district funds, along with generous grants from the district to other union workers such as Courtney Smith and Jennie Peek-Dunstone [eye roll].

All over the country, municipalities are feeling the cash crunch from bloated public worker payrolls and benefits. Recently a bankruptcy court allowed Stockton, California to cut health benefits to city retirees because previous deals with the union cut into city budgets to dramatically.

Fortunately in Douglas County, taxpayers got in front of the problem in 2009 by voting in reform-minded candidates. Not only is the district solvent, but they are a long way towards being union free.       

“The biggest problem we have today in government is self-dealing,” said Piper, who plans a petition drive to ask Hickenlooper to follow the law and not intervene in the local labor dispute. “We have to restore schools to who they properly belong: First, the parents; then the kids; but also, very importantly, the teachers too.”

Wow. What a concept. A government that actually serves someone besides elected officials and bloated union bosses?


Not if the ACLU and AFT have anything to say about it.

It’s now apparently a civil right for Americans to pay too much for schools that just don’t work.

More fine work from the ACLU and the AFT.

Do you have a pen? Hat Tip Doctor Roy.


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