SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A top official with the National Education Association is backing teachers and school service employees in West Virginia during their fight for better pay and benefits.
NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss joined the picket line in Kanawha County Friday morning — Day 2 of a statewide work stoppage.
Moss stood with school employees as they held signs along MacCorkle Avenue at the Riverwalk Mall in South Charleston. Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, was also on hand.
“I think that it’s going to take the community and the educators linking arms and standing together to say ‘no more.’ We need better for our students,” Moss said.
When speaking to MetroNews, Moss made it a point to apologize to teachers, students and families about the action.
“We’re so sorry that it had to come to this, but if this is what it’s going to take for the lawmakers to hear us, then we’ll stand as long as we need to stand,” she said.
Right now, Moss said West Virginia has an issue with recruiting and retaining teachers because of low pay.
“In order to attract and retain quality educators or else they’re going to jump (state) lines and comes over to northern Virginia. I’ve heard countless stories of educators doing that,” she said.
Robin Peck, a French teacher at South Charleston High School, said there needs to be an incentive for teachers to want to work in West Virginia.
“Like any other profession, you have to give people a reason to want to pick your state, pick your school, pick your company. You want to take your best and your brightest, you have to make it worth their while,” Peck said.
A lot of teachers depend on benefits through the Public Employees Insurance Agency, Peck said, not pay. She said lawmakers need to fix the benefits first.
“I think a lot of teachers when they enter the profession, they understood that the pay was going to be far less than what you could get in the private sector, but at least you had reasonable health care benefits. That just has changed,” she said.
New teacher Allison Cooper, who teaches 2nd grade at Bridgeview Elementary, said they don’t want to be out of the classroom.
“We love our jobs. We’d rather be teaching, not anything else. We chose our profession because we love it, but we also have families that we have to take care of like everyone else,” Cooper said.
In Putnam County, teachers stood for a second day along a busy Teays Valley Road Friday.
Suzette Jackson, a 4th grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary School and mother of five, said teachers are looking for respect and priority.
“We’re here and there seems to be a lot public support for what we’re doing and so hopefully that will continue and we’ll get some things resolved,” Jackson said.
Longtime Mountain View kindergarten teacher Sharon Shortridge said fixing PEIA is the top priority for those at her school.
“I know those with (private insurance) pay more but that was a benefit we were promised and we’re taking salary cuts (now),” Shortridge said. “All they have to do is fix PEIA. That’s what we’re asking for. That’s it.”
As of mid-morning Friday, Gov. Jim Justice had still not publicly commented on the work stoppage. Jackson was hoping to hear from him soon.
“I think it’s his job to be doing something,” she said. “I think it’s all their (Justice and legislature) jobs. They need to help figure this out.”
There are a lot of unanswered questions as to whether or not school employees will continue to strike next week.
“Probably? Maybe? Hopefully not? Hopefully the government sees that they need to do this for us,” said Lynn Greter, co-president of the Kanawha County Education Association.
All public schools in West Virginia remained closed Friday.
Jeff Jenkins contributed to this story.