West Virginia teachers strike stretches into a new week with no end in sight

The West Virginia teachers strike won't end anytime soon.

West Virginia teachers, students and supporters hold signs on a Morgantown street as they continue their strike on March 2, 2018 in Morgantown, West Virginia.  CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
West Virginia teachers, students and supporters hold signs on a Morgantown street as they continue their strike on March 2, 2018 in Morgantown, West Virginia. CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

West Virginia teachers will continue their strike on Monday, teachers’ unions and school service personnel announced, after lawmakers failed to improve their salaries and health insurance on Saturday.

A joint statement from the West Virginia Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia School Service Personnel reads, “All public schools will be closed again on Monday and remain closed until the Senate honors the agreement that was made.”

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On Saturday, Senate Republicans would not agree to pass a five percent salary increase for teachers, according to WV News. The Senate also rejected an amendment adding a 2.5 percent tax on gas or oil drilled from land and use it to fund the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), the state health insurance plan. But before the Senate passed the bill reducing the raise, it accidentally passed the bill with the House version’s language.

West Virginia state senator John Unger (D) said, “This has been chaotic and somewhat incompetent,” according to WV Metro News.

Last week, teachers union leaders reached a deal with Gov. Jim Justice (R) on that agreed to a 5 percent salary increase and a task force to consider solutions to improve PEIA. Many teachers said they wanted an immediate change to PEIA, because premium increases were so high that teachers had to take on second jobs. But teachers were unhappy with the deal, which was reached on Tuesday, and continued to strike.

The work stoppage is called a wildcat strike, or a strike by the rank-and-file union members that does not have the approval of union leaders. This kind of labor action is not unusual for West Virginia which has a history of heated labor fights just like this one.

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When asked by WV News whether he blamed Gov. Justice for making the deal, despite Senate Republicans’ reluctance, Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, pointed out that the governor met with Senate and House leaders before reaching a deal with union leaders.

The West Virginia House of Delegates refused to concur with the Senate changes to teacher pay increases, however, according to WCHS. Last week, the House passed the 5 percent raise that was part of the governor’s deal with union leaders.

The strike, which was on its seventh day on Friday, may top a statewide teachers strike in 1990 which lasted 11 days. That strike was illegal, as is this one, but teachers have refused to back down. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he is ready to take legal action to stop the strike.

Oklahoma teachers, meanwhile, are considering their own statewide strike, which could happen in just a few weeks. Their concerns are similar to those of West Virginia teachers. Teachers in both states are among the lowest paid teachers in the country.