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Colo. Teachers' Collective Bargaining Opened to Public

Colorado voters last week approved a ballot initiative that requires teacher contracts to be bargained in full view of the public.

There's no question that the law will have major implications for the state's teachers and school boards. But it's still very unclear what exactly those will be.

The measure, Proposition 104, got a little lost in the middle of a busy midterm season chock-a-block with education implications, but it was was the only one Colorado voters approved. It changes the fundamental dynamic of collective bargaining, the process by which contract terms—from wages, to benefits, to senority and transfer positions—are set. 

In most places, bargaining sessions between district and union officials are closed. Even tentative contracts don't have to be released until they are approved by both parties. 

Bargaining is permitted in Colorado but isn't mandatory.

The idea of open bargaining has actually been tried in Colorado before. A few years back in Douglas County, Colo., the district and union used it during a tense round of negotiations. (The conservative school board ultimately opted not to sign a contract with the Douglas County Federation of Teachers.) 

The aim of the measure, which was supported mostly by conservative groups, may have been to put pressure on teachers' unions. But as Chalkbeat Colorado recently reported, the law actually might cut the other way. That's because unions could still hammer out their bargaining strategy and negotiating tactics behind closed doors—but, under a provision in the new law, schools board strategy sessions would also be public under state sunshine laws. That could give unions a distinct advantage at the negotiating table.

The Colorado Education Association, nevertheless, opposed the measure; a spokesman for the union told the Associated Press that it was too broadly written and its implications too unclear. 

The law doesn't apply to other public-sector labor unions and goverment entities.

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