FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - The Kentucky Labor Cabinet has denied a request by Attorney General Andy Beshear to withdraw subpoenas to 10 local school districts seeking teacher attendance records.
And if they don’t, the attorney general says he will sue.
“I will not allow this governor to bully our teachers and fine them up to $1,000 a day,” Beshear said in a statement. “If the governor’s subpoenas are not withdrawn by the end of the week, I will file suit on Monday. See you in court.”
Earlier this month, the Labor Cabinet issued the subpoenas to the districts, seeking the names of teachers who might have used sick days to attend rallies at the Capitol during the 2019 General Assembly and gave them 30 days to respond.
Around 10 districts had to cancel classes for one or more days due to the number of teachers calling in sick, with Jefferson County Public Schools closing for six days, as teachers rallied in Frankfort.
Beshear sent a letter to Gov. Matt Bevin and acting Labor Secretary David Dickerson on April 16, telling them the subpoenas are unlawful, and gave them 10 days to rescind the subpoenas, or face possible legal action.
In a letter sent to Beshear on Wednesday, Dickerson said the Labor Cabinet is fulfilling its statutory duty and acting in the public interest of students, parents, employers, and the taxpayers of Kentucky by investigating whether a public-sector strike or work stoppage has occurred in violation of state law.
“This office is only beginning an investigation and has made no decision whether any statutory violation has occurred,” Dickerson said in his letter. “At this early stage, we are simply gathering information about possible violations of Kentucky law. Nothing more.”
Dickerson noted that like Beshear, he is also the head of an executive branch agency, and has duties under state law which authorizes his office to “prosecute any violations of any of the provisions of any law which it is [my] duty to enforce.” That includes subpoena power in matters under investigation.
The letter to Beshear also quoted the state law regarding the issue.
“Employees, collectively and individually, may strike, engage in peaceful picketing, and assemble collectively for peaceful purposes, except that no public employee, collectively or individually, may engage in a strike or a work stoppage,” the letter stated.
The letter from Dickerson also said many Kentuckians expressed frustration at the sickouts.
“Working parents have had to scramble for expensive childcare on short notice, or potentially jeopardize their jobs,” he wrote. “In Louisville, students have had to postpone taking the ACT, a requirement for admission to college, and parents have expressed their concern that the significant investment they made in ACT prep courses has gone to waste. This is on top of the countless accommodations parents and students had to make in 2018 for similar action by public school employees during the debate over pension reform.”
He said it is not a First Amendment issue, as Beshear said last week.
“What is at stake here is whether public school employees can lie about being sick and force a shutdown of the entire school system, so they can get paid while coming to Frankfort to lobby.”
Beshear is trying to become the Democratic candidate for governor with the hope of trying to keep Bevin, a Republican, from a second term.