FAIRMONT, W.Va. — 19 cents per hour won’t be enough to cover the rising premiums that secretary and school accountant Nancy Jamison expects to pay if there is no long-term fix for PEIA.
“We don’t use PEIA very often,” Jamsion said. “By including (my husband) as self-employed onto my premiums, my premiums will go up $700 a month.”
Jamison, who works at Westwood Middle School in Morgantown, said a one percent raise would come out to about $0.19 an hour for her — or close to an extra $400 per year.
“I love my job, and I’m very good at my job,” she said. “I’m committed to my students and the office that I work in. But, at some point, the state has to invest in us. We have over 750 vacant positions in this state. People are not going to come here. They are not going to work here if they do not have a good paying job and they don’t have benefits.”
Issues of teacher pay, PEIA, severance taxes and S.B. 335 — known as the Paycheck Protection Act — were brought before the region’s legislators during a town hall meeting at East Fairmont High School Saturday. That’s what brought Jamison and about one hundred other people into an empty gymnasium this weekend.
“I’m just sick and tired of seeing this new majority beat down working men and women in this state,” Del. Mike Caputo (D, Marion – 50) said.
Caputo was one of about a dozen legislators, including several prospective candidates for federal and state-level offices, who engaged with public workers Saturday morning.
“It has been just chaotic for the state of West Virginia,” Caputo said. “The attacks on working families — from Right to Work, paycheck deception, prevailing wage, and now the attack on teacher seniority and their members on the Finance Board. It has just been one attack after another.”
Teacher pay and PEIA were discussed at great length — including possible long-term solutions. A proposal to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana for recreational adult use received particular attention Saturday.
“People in my district are really in favor of adult use,” said Del. John Williams (D – Monongalia, 51). “Like anything, we’d have to regulate it. We’d have to make sure that it’s not getting in the hands of minors, but you see how many drunk driving deaths there are per year, how many alcohol-related diseases people can get. I don’t think that cannabis is any worse than that.”
House Bill 3035, introduced by Del. Sean Hornbuckle (D – Cabell, 16) in January, has seen no action since being referred to committee. It would legalize marijuana for recreational use for adults over the age of 21. Williams said that’s the type of revenue that the state could use.
“I think everybody has a duty to pay forward what they can,” he said. “On a larger scale, that’s been my reason for getting into public service. These folks are teaching our children. They’re teaching our future. They taught us. We need to do everything we can to make sure they are fairly compensated.”
At a regional rally in Clarksburg last week, union reps laid out a plan to demand a four percent pay raise for school personnel and public workers. Delegate Linda Longstreth (D – Marion, 50) thinks the Legislature could get close to that — suggesting three percent was a viable number.
“The money’s there,” she said. “It just depends on where priorities are, like Delegate (Tim) Miley said — and where are we going to put it.”
There are two plans currently seen as viable by the majority in Charleston. The first, supported by Gov. Jim Justice and passed unanimously by the State Senate earlier this month, calls for a one percent pay raise for five years. The second, currently working its way through the House of Delegates, calls for a four-year raise with two percent in year one, but followed by three successive years at one percent.
“I think we need to address this first and foremost,” John Williams said. “Same thing I said about the budget last year: let’s tackle these big problems early on, get them over with, ease people’s fears and their anxiety on the issue. Then we can move on to turkey hunting after that.”
In response to unrest from teachers, school personnel, and public workers up and down the state, the Governor has also proposed freezing changes to PEIA that have been squarely in the cross-hairs of disgruntled demonstrators. Jon Dodds, a network engineer with 20 years of experience in higher education, said kicking the can down the road on PEIA is a mistake.
“We can’t kick the can down the road another year,” he said. “I think there is some political (motivation) in it, because it’s an election year. So let’s deal with it next year.”
But those changes are still scheduled to, eventually, go into effect. Nancy Jamison said, based on her math, the changes will be costly whether you are single or married.
“Even if I were single, my increase in my PEIA would be probably close to $250,” she said.
That’s why one percent simply isn’t enough for Jamison. And that’s why Dodds said he’s been speaking at every PEIA Finance Board hearing for years.
“I’ve driven a thousand miles last November to all the PEIA hearings and spoke… I’m tired of driving,” he said. “I don’t want to do it next November and the November after that and the November after that.”
He’ll get another chance next week — with public hearings scheduled in both Charleston and Morgantown.
If you ask teachers, many of them will say that salaries are important, but perhaps not the number one issue driving the current unrest. But Jamison said, when you do the math, the cold, hard numbers are stark.
“Unless you start really breaking down how much that really is per day, per hour, people don’t really realize the actual effect that that’s going to have on their families budget.”
WAJR’s Brittany Murray and Alex Wiederspiel contributed to this report.