A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Labor secretary says 1,074 teachers violated the law during ‘sickouts’ but will not face fines, this time

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Kentucky Labor Secretary David Dickerson announced Friday that no fines will be levied against teachers for protesting pension legislation considered during the 2019 General Assembly that resulted in at least 10 districts being forced to cancel classes due to teacher shortages.

The “sickouts” hit Jefferson County Public Schools, the state’s largest district with around 100,000 students, the hardest, leading them to cancel six days of classes.

Protesting teachers were loud and clear in the Senate hallways last spring when a pension bill was being voted upon. (Kentucky Today/Tom Latek)

The Cabinet’s Office of Inspector General completed the investigation into whether Kentucky teachers engaged in an illegal work stoppage, also known as a “sickout,” during the 2019 legislative session of the General Assembly. The investigation found that 1,074 teachers did violate Kentucky law, which clearly prohibits work stoppages.

State law allows the Cabinet to prosecute and assess civil penalties of up to $1,000 per person, per day of work stoppage on any violation of a labor law in the state of Kentucky. Dickerson said while no penalties will be assessed for violations in this specific instance, this investigation was necessary to ensure that public schools remain open during the upcoming school year and that similar work stoppages do not occur in the future.

“Kentucky law clearly prohibits public-sector employees from engaging in work stoppages that many teachers engaged in during the early months of 2019,” Dickerson said. “Those teachers who participated in this concerted effort were in clear violation of the law, as noted by the Kentucky Education Association and recently affirmed by a federal court.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear and the Jefferson County Teachers Association filed suit against the Labor Cabinet at U.S. District Court in Frankfort, seeking to halt the investigation by keeping the Cabinet from issuing subpoenas for teacher attendance records, but Judge Danny Reeves denied a motion for a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction to stop subpoenas from being issued.

Dickerson says you can expect fines to be imposed,if similar actions happen in the future. “The public cannot tolerate another illegal work stoppage in our schools. It is important for public school teachers to understand the level of seriousness that, by law, the Labor Cabinet must and will give to any future work stoppages. We dedicate ourselves to students and parents across the Commonwealth to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, and that our schools will remain open.”

House Democratic leaders expressed disappointment in the Labor Cabinet’s announcement in a statement issued late Friday afternoon.

“This administration has tried every trick in the book to undermine our teachers and their supporters,” they said. “Its Labor Cabinet threatens them with fines for exercising their right to be heard on legislation directly affecting them; its Finance and Administration Cabinet all but locks the doors to the Capitol to shut down any form of dissent and the governor calls them thugs and tries to take away their retirement. Our teachers, and all of Kentucky, deserve better than this.” 

The statement was signed by Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, Minority Whip Joni Jenkins of Shively and Minority Caucus Chair Derrick Graham of Frankfort, who himself is a retired teacher.

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