Schools across the state of West Virginia will be closed on Monday for the eighth straight school day, after the state senate trimmed the promised pay raise for teachers from 5 percent to 4 percent.
On Feb. 27, Gov. Jim Justice reached an agreement with union officials to end the strike, pending a vote in the state legislature for a 5 percent pay raise for all school employees this year. All other public employees were set to receive a 3 percent raise this year, Justice said. But teachers balked at the fact that there would be no immediate fix to health insurance premiums, which increased in the 2018-19 benefits plan for state employees. The insurance agency agreed to freeze health-care premiums and rates for 16 months, but the strike continued for the rest of the week.
The house passed the 5 percent raise plan on Feb. 28, but three days later, the state senate decided to trim the pay raise to 4 percent in its version of the bill. The senator who proposed the amendment said the money saved would give an across-the-board 4 percent pay raise to all school employees, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
Now, the strike will continue indefinitely. A statement from the three unions—AFT-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association, and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association—promised that schools would remain closed until the state senate honored the agreement of the 5 percent raise. Senators, they said, broke the good-faith agreement they had made with the governor.
“They have had the bill for three days, and they are the ones responsible for our students not being in school,” the statement said.
In a statement, Justice, a Republican, said it was time to “quit playing politics” and “get our kids back in school.”
“For crying out loud, we are putting our children at risk,” he said. “I will not be a party to pitting our state employees against our teachers.”
There was some legislative drama in the statehouse—the state senate accidentally voted for the house version of the bill, which gave teachers their desired 5 percent pay raise. The state senate had to retrieve the bill from the house, and vote again on the amendment to cut the pay raise to 4 percent. (For more of the details of what’s happening in the state legislature, follow Jake Jarvis, the West Virginia government reporter for the WV State Journal, who has been live-tweeting.)
Striking in West Virginia is illegal. Teachers could be punished by being denied pay, suspended, fired, barred from teaching in a public school for a year, charged with a criminal misdemeanor, or even fined or jailed if they do not comply with a court injunction ordering them to return to work.
Union officials called for education employees and supporters to be at the state capitol on Monday, March 5, to “deliver a clear message” to senate leadership.
Amanda Scarbery waves to passing drivers while demonstrating with other school personnel across from the capitol building in Charleston, W.Va., on Feb. 26, the third day of the statewide walkout by school personnel.
—Craig Hudson /Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.