CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Educators are planning to walk out of schools all over West Virginia again on Tuesday, the fourth straight day of a work stoppage.
The walkout will be the same day the state Board of Education may consider legal action. State Superintendent Steve Paine, on Saturday, stated that the topic is possible at an already-scheduled Tuesday meeting.
When West Virginia teachers went on strike in 1990, then Attorney General Roger Tompkins concluded, “There is no right to strike against the state. Thus, any strike or concerted work stoppage by public teachers of this state is illegal.”
So far, no West Virginia officials at the state or county level have moved to enforce that this time.
Teachers and school service personnel have been announcing walkouts a day or two at a time. Friday’s announcement came at 4 p.m. Today’s was about 3 p.m. All 55 counties announced Tuesday closure by 9 p.m.
The decision to walk out again was announced at the end of a rally on the state Capitol stairs. Thousands of teachers attended the rally.
“Those of you outside, inside have the ability to infer,” Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said after a series of speakers addressed issues of pay, healthcare and respect.
“Our issues are clear. Our commitment to finding a solution has been consistent. We stand together for our students, our communities and our state. We challenge the House leaders, the Senate leaders and the governor to bring us to the table today.”
She continued, “We are ready, we are willing. We stand on the right side of public education by being back here and outside our schools tomorrow. Because we are 55 united we will not be back in our schools tomorrow for our schools, our communities and our state.”
At the first stop in Wheeling, he told a crowd of teachers, “You need to be back in classrooms, our kids need to back in classrooms,” although he also said that’s their decision.
I am telling you there’s consequences for everything. . . . I’m telling you, the very best thing you can do is be in the classroom. #wvgov
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) February 26, 2018
Justice was elected governor in 2016 with strong backing from teachers unions.
Meanwhile, Campbell and Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, described progress after a morning meeting with House Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate President Mitch Carmichael.
“We did make some progress. We still have some real sticky issues to finalize,” Lee said during an appearance Monday on MetroNews “Talkline.”
During Monday’s rally, the teachers union leaders told the crowd that the ability to re-open lines of communication with legislative leaders had been largely because of the vocal presence of educators at the Capitol.
“They could bring us to the table and get this thing solved,” Lee told the crowd. “Because I guarantee everyone out there would rather be in front of their students teaching right now.”
House Speaker Tim Armstead, in a statement released late Monday, acknowledged the meeting with Lee and Campbell and also described progress.
“The Senate President and I met with teacher and public employee representatives this morning and are continuing to have very productive discussions on a path forward,” Armstead stated.
“We are currently discussing the formation of a task force including teacher and public employee representatives, members of the Legislature and executive branch, and public employees. This task force will work toward long-term solutions. As this group is formed and begins its work, we strongly believe our teachers should return to the classroom.”
The Legislature last week voted for a pay increase that would provide teachers, service personnel and State Police an average 2 percent raise next fiscal year. The structure provides two additional years of average 1 percent raises for teachers and one more year for the other two employee classes.
Teachers, though, have said that amount is not enough to encourage beginning educators or to keep veteran classroom leaders in the profession. More recently, they have been talking about 5 percent next year.
Public employees have also complained about skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for their health plans. The Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board, at the governor’s urging, froze the plan for the coming fiscal year — costing the state an estimated $29 million.
But public employees have said that’s a short-term fix. They would like guarantees of stability in the coming years.
The main speaker at Monday afternoon’s rally was United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts. Other union organizations such as the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters have participated in the rallies, although they are not striking along with teachers and service personnel.
Roberts talked about civil disobedience, particularly describing moments from the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“This is not a strike,” Roberts told the crowd. “This is a movement.”
Roberts of UMW describes the problem in his view pic.twitter.com/BZR3ZCQ9nG
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) February 26, 2018