CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association says the state is at a tipping point.
Joe White made his remarks this morning before an emergency meeting of the West Virginia Board of Education.
“Today, for the first time, my stomach is in knots,” White told members of the board.
“You know, this is a lot bigger than us. Sometimes a destiny we choose for ourselves doesn’t happen; sometimes destiny chooses us.”
Teachers and school service personnel are on the eve of a statewide walkout over wages and healthcare costs.
The Legislature on Tuesday approved average 2 percent raises for both groups for next year. School service personnel would get another average 1 percent raise the following year, and teachers would receive average 1 percent raises the following two years.
Teachers have said that’s not enough to encourage people to stay in or join the profession.
Also Tuesday, the Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board froze the existing structure for the health insurance program. State employees have said that’s a short-term solution when what they’re really after is a move toward long-term stability.
“This is big. People are hurting. They want to be heard. Is anybody listening to the thousands and thousands of people in this state,” said an emotional White.
“I’m asking one thing on behalf of all the people in this state. Stand with your people and listen to your people. There’s going to be a big announcement made. We can’t stop this.”
White said “union bosses” have been blamed by some Republican legislative leaders.
“Let me tell you about the union bosses,” White said. “I had to ask my wife this morning if I had enough money in the bank to buy gas.”
White personally addressed state schools Superintendent Steve Paine, describing an evenhanded approach to dealing with the situation.
“I hope you don’t get mad at me for saying this, but of all the people in this state you were the only one that is trying to get the tables together, and I appreciate that,” White said.
Another representative to address the state board, David Gladkosky of the West Virginia Professional Educators, said his association supports teachers and service personnel but doesn’t want to see a walkout.
“That’s been our philosophy from the very beginning,” said Gladkosky, whose association is described as an independent association that began in the 1980s as an alternative to the other teachers unions in West Virginia.
“We don’t dictate to our members what action they should take in a strike situation, but we will support them in anything that they need and we will represent them in anything they need,” he said.
“We have over 1,200 members who don’t want to strike and feel it is a disservice to our students and creates ill will.”
Gladkosky said, though, that public employees deserve better wages and predictable health care costs.
“We do agree that teachers, service personnel, State Police troopers are all overdue for a pay raise and that a permanent solution for a funding plan for PEIA is vital,” Gladkosky said. “So we do continue to be concerned.”