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After 4 days of strikes, West Virginia teachers win raises in deal with governor

Teachers unions reached a deal with the governor after four days of walkouts.

West Virginia teachers wait in line to get into the Capitol building in Charleston. CREDIT: West Virginia AFT/Facebook
West Virginia teachers wait in line to get into the Capitol building in Charleston. CREDIT: West Virginia AFT/Facebook

West Virginia teachers union leaders reached a deal with the governor on Tuesday evening. Teachers will return to work on Thursday after four days on strike. Wednesday is a “cooling off” day for teachers.

Gov. Jim Justice (R) announced that teachers would be getting a 5 percent raise this year and a 3 percent raise for all state employees, but the legislature still has to approve of it. Justice said he spoke to House and Senate leaders about the raises and that he is “very hopeful.”

Before the statewide strike, which was the first in almost 30 years, the governor signed a 2 percent pay increase for teachers for the next fiscal year. For the next following two fiscal years, teachers would receive a 1 percent raise. West Virginia teachers’ salaries currently rank 48th in the nation.

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But low salaries weren’t the only reason for the work stoppage. Teachers and other school staff were also concerned about the health insurance program and premium increases. Although the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) Finance Board agreed to freeze any changes to the health insurance plans that raised premiums until July 2019, teachers said they wanted a long-term fix. The governor agreed to create a task force to consider solutions to the problem.

Some teachers aren’t happy with the results, and many shouted, “Back to the table!” and “Fix it now!” when Dale Lee, West Virginia Education Association president, made on an announcement at the Capitol grounds on Tuesday, according to CNN. Some educators returned to the Capitol on Wednesday morning and voiced their displeasure with the deal. West Virginia MetroNews “Talkline” Host Hoppy Kercheval said, “I’ve been told by union sources that there’s a large portion of the membership that’s unhappy with the union leaders.”

Lee said teachers “reserve the right” to call teachers to participate in more walkouts if the legislation gets stuck or moves too slowly.

House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead (R) was optimistic about the pay raises, according to WBUR, but Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R) said the Senate will fully consider the fiscal environment before agreeing to the raises.

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“It feels like we’re perhaps reacting to pressure as opposed to properly managing the fiscal affairs of our state,” Carmichael told reporters, according to WBUR.

Teachers were striking under the threat of legal action from the state, since the statewide strike was illegal. The West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said it was unlawful. Gov. Justice said he would not rule out a court injunction to make the teachers return to school.

On Wednesday morning, teachers were at the Capitol again, chanting, “You work for us!”

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