Public schools in West Virginia are closed on Friday, after teachers’ statewide strike entered its seventh day. Teachers union leaders reached a deal with Gov. Jim Justice (R) on Tuesday evening, but many teachers were unsatisfied with the deal since it didn’t make immediate changes that would have improved their health insurance.
Gov. Justice announced that teachers would be getting a 5 percent raise this year and a 3 percent raise for all state employees, assuming state lawmakers would pass legislation to support those raises. West Virginia teachers are among the lowest paid in the country.
But teachers said the governor didn’t sufficiently address the issue of what to do about teachers’ concerns about the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) and premium increases that teachers said they can’t afford. The governor agreed to create a task force to consider solutions to the problem, but teachers said it isn’t enough.
— Ms. Estep (@MsEstep) March 2, 2018
Many teachers said that health insurance was more important to them than a rise in pay, according to HuffPost.
Katie Endicott, a West Virginia high school English teacher, told the New York Times that teachers were “very angry” when union leaders announced the deal on Tuesday because “we felt like had not achieved what we set out to achieve.”
“Our county said we would not be returning to the classroom. We did not want to go back with a promise. We wanted it signed, sealed and delivered. We wanted it to be fulfilled, not just empty words,” Endicott told the Times.
Wednesday was supposed to be a “cooling off” day for teachers, who have been on strike since last Thursday, but teachers returned to the capitol grounds to chant “You work for us!”
The cooling off is going well so far pic.twitter.com/Gem5izVDFX
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) February 28, 2018
On Thursday evening, the Department of Education said all of the public schools in the state’s 55 counties would be closed, according to the Associated Press.
That same day, the West Virginia Senate would not take up the legislation that would give teachers the 5 percent raise the governor said he was “very hopeful” would go through.
State Senator Mitch Carmichael (R), president of the Senate, told reporters, “We cannot continue to spend money we do not have or write checks we cannot cash.”
Friday: “We made a deal. Pass that bill.” pic.twitter.com/XhaRT26pbH
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) March 2, 2018
Gov. Justice said in an exchange with striking teachers on Thursday, “I’m not king. I’m doing what all I can possibly do.”
Nearly 30 years ago, West Virginia teachers participated in a statewide strike. It lasted 11 days. It was illegal for teachers to strike in the ’90s, and it’s illegal now. On Thursday, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said that if the strike doesn’t end soon, “We’re ready, we’re prepared. Once this office receives authorization, we’re prepared to act.” Morrisey did not go into further specifics on what kind of legal options the state is considering, according to WYMT.
Teachers said they are keeping an eye on elections this year and keeping track of which lawmakers have been supportive of their demands, since all 100 seats in the House and half of the 34 seats in the Senate are up for election, according to ABC News.