The strike by teachers and service workers that closed schools for nine days is over. Here are my takeaways:
–The five percent raise is substantial and fair. If you count the experience increment for years one through 35, public school teachers will see about another $2,500 in their base pay starting next fiscal year. Service workers, with their experience increment, will make around $1,400 more.
–State public employees did not strike, but they benefited from it, and from the Senate holdout. Had the Senate immediately gone along with the House last week public employees would have gotten a three percent raise. The Senate moved to equalize the raises and the compromise with the House eventually brought everybody up to five percent.
–The 55 county school superintendents played a critical role. When the county superintendents last Friday agreed to continue calling off school until the Legislature passed the five percent raise, the gauntlet was thrown down. None of the superintendents was willing to ask the State Attorney General to go to court to try to force the teachers and service workers back on the job.
–The teacher and service worker unions are back. West Virginia’s labor movement has diminished significantly in recent years with the decline of the coal industry and the shift to a Republican controlled Legislature. However, the “55 United” campaign was an impressive show of force that effected change. We will see if this was a singular event or representative of a rejuvenated labor movement.
–Senate President Mitch Carmichael and Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns took considerable heat during the strike. The pressure on them was immense. Teachers stationed outside the Senate chamber repeatedly chanted “vote them out” and “remember in November.” Ferns will have his hands full in November with a challenge from Democrat and former U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld. Carmichael is not up until 2020.
–The strike was loud—really loud—but peaceful. Yes, a few signs were rude and there were some over-the-line comments on social media, but the crowds at the Capitol and around the state were pretty well-behaved, especially considering that about 5,000 teachers and service workers flowed into the Capitol each day.
–The strike became a national story. It took a few days, but the national media eventually started covering the strike closely. Fortunately, the strike ended before the national media had a chance to set up camp here and make it an even bigger story. I’m in the media, but when the national media descend on a story like this it just further complicates things and adds even more pressure.
–I sensed on Talkline and in my texts and emails some backlash to the settlement. One texter wrote, “I am very disappointed that the Legislature caved to the demands of the hostage takers.” Another wrote, “With this increase in teacher pay, how much will student test scores go up?” I have heard from a number of West Virginians—I don’t know the percentage—who were growing increasingly frustrated with the strike.
–What now? I hate to dampen the euphoria over the settlement, but frankly, the five percent raise was the easy part. Now stakeholders on the Governor’s task force have to try to figure out some long-term solutions to Public Employee Insurance Agency. And that’s a challenge.