CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two days before an announced statewide walkout of teachers and school service personnel, the state Senate passed a controversial bill affecting the pensions of teachers union leaders.
The bill, which passed the Senate 19-14 with one absence, is one of several bills characterized by the state’s teachers unions as disrespectful to educators — and a factor in the upcoming walkout.
The bill would not affect the current union leaders, Christine Campbell of the American Federation of Teachers or Dale Lee of the West Virginia Education Association.
But if the bill passes the House and is signed by the governor, it would count future union leaders as absent from the school system as they serve as a teachers union officer.
That means their time of service as teachers union leaders would not count toward the teachers retirement system.
Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, wanted to know why the bill was being considered.
“What problem here are you trying to solve?” Prezioso asked. “Does there seem to be a problem? Do you hear a lot of concerns from constituents?”
A fiscal note provided by the Consolidated Public Retirement Board concludes, “Because the number of individuals affected is minimal, there are no measurable changes to plan costs as a result of the bill’s provisions.”
“It doesn’t seem to me we’re causing any harm to the retirement system,” Prezioso said.
Prezioso contended that the leaders of the state’s two teachers unions are unique because they are chosen from among their peers to serve in the roles.
“These are not union bosses. These are teachers who were chosen from their peers to come down here and serve,” he said.
“Dale Lee and Christine Campbell are two fine teachers who were selected to come down here because they understand teachers in the classroom. It seems like maybe there’s a vengeance factor here. I hope there isn’t. I’m not saying there is.”
Senator Robert Karnes, chairman of the Senate’s Pensions Committee, characterized the existing situation as a carve-out established years ago by the Legislature. Karnes said it’s time to end it.
“These are deals that are back-end deals that were plugged in to state code,” said Karnes, R-Upshur.
“These are people who have spent 10 years not working in the classroom. These are folks who are making far more than a teacher would ever make. It’s really hard to justify why they should get such a special deal.”
Karnes said that because the bill would only affect the successors to Lee and Campbell, the measure does not take aim at them.
“This was not targeted to two individuals as was implied,” he said.