CHARLESTON, W.Va. — What happens after two days of walkouts from teachers and school service workers across West Virginia was not clear on Wednesday, what was expected to be the last day of school this week for students throughout the Mountain State.
“All I can pledge is that we hope, with these two days of walking out, they will bring us to the table and try to work out solutions to prevent things from escalating into the next two weeks,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.
For the first time since the teacher strike in 1990, a statewide walkout was scheduled to start on Thursday morning and continue through Friday.
As of Wednesday, Lee said he could not make any promises beyond that “because right now we’re not even having the discussion.”
Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia, agreed.
“The Legislature has an opportunity, the Governor has an opportunity to have them not stay out,” Campbell said.
“But every piece of activity that we’ve seen is more about attacking us personally and not really looking at the faces of the educators that are taking care of our students.”
On Tuesday, both the state Senate and House of Delegates approved a state worker pay raise bill with an average pay raise of two percent next year for teachers and one percent for each of the next two years.
For school service personnel and State Police, the raise would be an average of two percent in the coming fiscal year with an additional one percent the year after that.
Both Lee and Campbell maintained lawmakers should have understood before the vote it would not be enough to stop the walkouts since the larger push has been for competitive pay.
The original Senate-approved pay raise package, a proposal from Governor Jim Justice, was one percent each year over five years for five percent total.
“We’ve told them that that wasn’t acceptable and, somehow, we lost a percent. If that bill would have gone over three or four more times, we’d have probably owed them money,” Lee said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“The union bosses have called for an illegal work stoppage,” maintained Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04).
“I will implore the people of West Virginia to urge our teachers to do your jobs, stay in school, take care of our kids, do the work that you’ve contracted to do, don’t take this illegal work stoppage.”
As of Wednesday morning, he was not ruling out possible legal action against the walkouts from the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office at some point.
In Harrison County, Mark Manchin, superintendent, said schools would essentially “go dark” for 48 hours in solidarity with county employees.
“We support the right for our teachers and our service personnel to send a clear message that they’re aggravated and the priorities in this state need to be changed,” Manchin said.