CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Prior to thousands of teachers and school service personnel gathering at the steps of the state Capitol on Saturday, Mary Cathryn Ricker of the American Federation of Teachers pointed to the education movement in West Virginia as a national momentum creator.
“You see it on social media. You see it as other educators in other unions talk to each other about the sort of voice we can actually claim in our workplace and collectively act in a Legislature to make sure that we are investing in teaching as a career,” she said.
Ricker spoke at the rally Saturday, in which the West Virginia Education Association, the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association announced a statewide two-day walkout for Thursday and Friday.
School employees have been demanding lawmakers for improvements to the state health insurance program as well as larger pay raises.
Ricker, who serves as national executive vice president, said the amount of energy seen in protests and similar events has been astounding.
“Through the work they are doing and through their own advocacy for themselves and really the future of their own profession, it’s inspiring educators across the country,” she said.
Becky Pringle, the vice president of the National Education Association, struck similar chords to Ricker’s comments during a press conference before the rally.
“What our proud, brave and courageous educators are doing here in West Virginia is inspiring colleagues all over this country to stand up and say enough,” she said.
Pringle told the crowd they were in the fight of their lives and for their careers.
“Let me tell you something, Dale, I heard you were pretty tough here in West Virginia,” she said, referencing West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee. “I’m pretty sure when I ask you what are you prepared to do, you will say to me: ‘Whatever it takes.'”
Representatives of United Mine Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters spoke Saturday in a showing of solidarity with the education unions.
“Are you ready to get behind your leaders and fight?” yelled Levi Allen, international secretary-treasurer of the United Mine Workers of America. “Are you ready to take this fight all the way to the ballot box in November? Are you ready to be recognized and respected?”
The two-day walkouts are set for a week after education staff from several counties packed the Capitol in protest. Many individuals were reported chanting “We will vote you out!” and “Do your jobs!”