DENVER, Oct. 12 -- A state judge ruled Wednesday that a strike by Denver public school teachers is legal and has refused to issue a back to work order. The walkout by an estimated 3,000 of the Denver Public Schools' 4,000 teachers is in its third day and no new talks have been scheduled. District Court Judge Larry Naves ruled the director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment did not have the authority to force a settlement in the labor dispute. Naves also ruled teachers had complied with the law by involving the director in labor negotiations and had the right to reject a proposed contract. The judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction ordering the teachers back into the classroom. Striking teachers could have faced $100-per-day fines and up to 60 days in jail if they had defied a back to work order. State labor director Joe Donlon had proposed a $5.1 million one-year pact that would have given every teacher a $1,001 raise instead of the seniority-based pay hike the teachers had sought. Donlon had contended that a strike or lockout would be illegal. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association contended the strike was legal because the labor department director intervened, mediated, facilitated and wrote a report. The teachers said because he had that opportunity and was unsuccessful, they fulfilled the requirement necessary before a legal strike. The union said 65 percent of the teachers voted to reject the settlement and walked off the job Monday, leaving substitutes and administrators and non-striking teachers to handle 63,000 students.
School officials said all 107 of the district's schools remained open and about 80 percent of the student body reported for class. Union officials said wages and working conditions were the major issues. Last year, in an effort to cut its deficit, the school board canceled a 3.5 percent raise called for in the teachers' contract. Teachers last struck the district in 1969, when they staged a 14-day walkout.