CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On Day No. 8 of public school closures in all 55 West Virginia counties for the teacher and school service personnel strike, Governor Jim Justice claimed on MetroNews “Talkline” that he could not get a meeting with Senate leaders.

“I am begging them to talk to me,” Justice said on Monday morning. “I am begging them to talk to me. I’ll go up there. I’ll meet them at the 7-11. I’ll meet ’em in my office.”

On Monday, MetroNews Statewide Correspondent Brad McElhinny reported the State Capitol was again packed with striking education workers and their supporters long before a scheduled 4 p.m. meeting of the pay raise bill conference committee.

The six members of the conference committee, three from the House and three from the Senate, are charged with trying to reach a compromise on a pay raise that could end the strike.

The House’s pay raise bill includes five percent more next year for teachers, school service workers and State Police which Justice proposed after town hall meetings in Wheeling, Martinsburg and Morgantown last week.

Other state workers would see three percent, according to the Justice plan.

The Senate’s pay raise bill comes with four percent more next year for all state employees.

Last week, Justice negotiated a deal with leaders of the West Virginia Education Association, American Federation of Teachers West Virginia and West Virginia School Service Personnel Association that included the (1) higher pay, the (2) dropping of several education-related bills dealing with seniority and charter schools along with (3) paycheck protection and (4) details dealing with the formation of the Public Employees Insurance Agency Task Force to work on identifying long-term PEIA funding sources.

Justice had a different take on the pay issue Monday.

“We have not necessarily promised all of our educators and everything, whether it be service personnel or whatever, we’ve not promised that they’re going to get five percent,” Justice said.

“But, at the same time, they’re adamant that if they don’t get their five percent, they’re not going back to work.”

The people who represent those on strike took the deal with Justice as a pay promise.

Pay is one of the four issues that Dale Lee, WVEA president, said prompted the school walkouts that started on Feb. 22.

“We have complete resolve on three of those items. The promise was made that we would get the pay at five percent. Everyone knew what it was,” Lee said.

Christine Campbell, AFT-WV president, agreed.

“The reason we’re not in school today (Monday) is because they did not pass this bill on Saturday,” she said. “These people (on strike) feel like they have become a political football and they are standing up for public education.”

Lee recommended taking all state worker pay up by five percent since Senate Republicans have argued for equalized pay.

Of that possibility, Justice said this: “Of course we can’t afford it or we would have already done it but, at the same time, we cannot afford to have our kids out of school.”

State Senate leaders have criticized Justice for revisiting pay after the Legislature previously approved — and he signed into law — a two percent pay raise for next year for teachers and school service workers.

“They believe I just left them high and dry but that is just not right. For them to think I ran off and left them is incomplete,” Justice claimed.

“Listen, Bubba, I’m trying. I’m reaching out in every way,” Justice told Hoppy Kercheval of his efforts to talk with Senate Republican leaders.

“There is nothing more important than getting these kids back to school.”

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