CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Chanting, sign-carrying education workers returned to the state Capitol early Wednesday morning, saying they are not happy with the deal announced Tuesday evening that many had hoped would end the statewide strike.
By mid-morning the teachers were lined deep outside the Senate chamber, chanting mantras like “We’re not going back!” and “We’re still waiting!”
“We’re not going back! We’re not going back!” pic.twitter.com/5B6raYch61
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) February 28, 2018
Gov. Jim Justice and leaders with the teachers and school service personnel announced a plan for a five percent pay raise next beginning in July along with a promise for a task force to address the health insurance issue through PEIA.
Almost immediately after the announcement posts were being made by teachers and others on social media that the plans they heard about were not enough.
Teachers at the Capitol said there were not enough concrete details about the PEIA task force to buy in. They also said it was not apparent that the House and Senate leaders agree with the governor, so it’s not clear to the teachers that the deal carries any weight.
Breaking: One union official estimates that as many as 1,000 people in the crowd outside the capitol last night expressed their anger of the settlement. Social media says crowd chanted “Back to the table.”
— Hoppy Kercheval (@HoppyKercheval) February 28, 2018
“I’m tired of empty promises,” Pineville Middle School teacher Lori Leather gave for the reason she returned Wednesday.
“We have been promised a five percent raise and a promise to fix PEIA with no assurance that that will go through and (Senate President Mitch) Carmichael has already expressed his disagreement with this promise.”
Leather said she doesn’t want to go back to work Thursday but she will ultimately do what her county decides.
Fayette County teacher Valerie Daniel said the strike began over PEIA and nothing has changed.
“We didn’t go out for a raise, we went for our insurance,” she said. “That’s our benefit and that’s hurting a lot of our families.”
Daniel said a promise of a task force to address PEIA was not enough.
“We need to put pressure on these politicians to do what’s right and election time is coming up–we need to do this now,” she said.
Kanawha County third grade teacher Whitney Harold agrees the continued protest is over PEIA.
“I think there’s a lot of distrust (with Gov. Jim Justice) and I don’t think people believe that he’s going to follow through with what he said or the House and Senate are going to follow through with what he’s promised,” Harold said.
She added she would have liked to have seen Carmichael and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead with Governor Justice and union leaders at Tuesday evening’s announcement.
“Like an united front,” Harold said. “I think people would have felt a little more comfortable.”
Carmichael, appearing this morning in an interview with MetroNews “Talkline” host Hoppy Kercheval, said he and his fellow senators had not yet had time to digest Justice’s raise proposal or the revenue estimate increase said to allow it.
Carmichael said he could not yet say if the Senate will pass a pay raise bill with the new proposal.
“I can’t predict that,” he said. “We will thoughtfully evaluate it.”
Kercheval said those in line at the Capitol Wednesday are upset with union leaders, who had not publicly spoken today.
“I’ve been told by union sources that there’s a large portion of the membership that’s unhappy with the union leaders. They want a permanent fix for PEIA and they don’t think what was announced last night does that,” Kercheval said.
Reaction to the announcement on the Capitol steps on Tuesday evening almost immediately turned critical.
“Back to the table,” the crowd chants, as they find out they go back to school Thursday. pic.twitter.com/as02oc7VBD
— Sarah L. Jorgensen (@SarahLJorgensen) February 27, 2018
Wednesday initially had been described as a cooling off day with schools remaining closed in all 55 counties.
State School Superintendent Dr. Steve Paine called it a day of preparation with plans on resuming school across the state Thursday.