MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monongalia County-AFT President Sam Brunett doesn’t think Governor Jim Justice’s Thursday press conference changes anything.
“From what I’m seeing, it hasn’t really diminished any of the feelings at all,” said Brunett, an art teacher at Morgantown High School. “If anything, it may have heightened the awareness even more. I think one thing that the Governor and the Legislature needs to realize is that our members are educating themselves more than I have ever seen before. And they know what the outcomes of these proposals are.”
Since teachers around the state began holding localized union meetings, which included a one-day walkout by three counties, Brunett has seen the Governor and Legislature begin hinting at certain concessions. The problem, he said, is that those concessions are short-term in nature.
“I think the thing that teachers and service personnel and public employees are worried about the most with this freeze is that’s all it is,” he said. “It’s a kicking the can down the road.”
The Governor has proposed freezing changes to PEIA for 17 months. Following the passage of the Jim Justice-endorsed S.B. 267 in the State Senate, which raised teacher pay by one percent for five years, the House has begun exploring a similar bill that would raise pay by two percent next year. It would then be followed by three years of one percent raises.
“There has to be some way to raise revenue in this state to help more than this,” Brunett said. “We need a fix.”
If the House passes their version, it will need to be again passed in the State Senate. But Brunett said PEIA has been the primary bugaboo among teachers in his local union — and that the proposed pay raise won’t do enough to offset long-term changes. That’s why Monongalia County school personnel voted to provide greater authority this week to the WVEA and AFT-WV to act on behalf of Monongalia County.
“We’ve authorized action at 89 percent, which is a huge amount,” he said. “I think that it voices pretty loudly the concerns of teachers and service personnel in the county.”
Results from other counties who have also authorized balloting of “action authorization votes” is expected to be tallied at a statewide meeting including reps from both the AFT and WVEA this weekend.
“The fact that AFT and WVEA are coming together and bringing all of their leadership together, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this happen,” Brunett said. “I’ve been the president of AFT-Mon County for a pretty long time now. I’ve never witnessed anything like that.”
He’s still not totally sure what to expect Sunday in Flatwoods.
“Just that, in and of itself, should speak volumes,” he said. “But beyond that, all the leadership throughout the state coming together to discuss what’s happening at the legislature? It’s unheard of, and I’m really pretty anxious to see what the results will be.”