As anyone who was in the West Virginia State Capitol during the recent teacher’s strike can tell you, it was loud… really loud. It was so loud, in fact, that teachers in other parts of the country heard the defiant chants of the striking educators and staff members.
Consider what is happening across the country now.
Teachers in neighboring Kentucky staged a sick-out last Friday and now the walkout has spread across the state into this week. Thousands of teachers have descended on the State Capitol in Frankfort.
The primary issue in Kentucky is a change in the teacher pension plan for new hires. Teachers were outraged that the bill, which appeared dead earlier in the session, slipped through late at night.
Teachers in Oklahoma received pay raises of about $6,000, but hundreds walked out anyway. Oklahoma’s 49th in the country in teacher pay and educators argued the just-approved salary increase is not enough.
Arizona teachers are planning a “walk-in” today, a protest before the start of school. Teachers there are demanding a 20 percent increase in pay.
The teachers in these states say they were inspired by what happened in West Virginia where the nine-day long strike forced the Governor and legislators to raise pay by five percent, freeze their insurance costs, and drop legislation the teacher organizations considered anti-union.
Sharon Huffman Reese is a Morgantown, West Virginia native who is among the picketers in Oklahoma. “When we saw that West Virginia teachers impacted their legislature, we knew that we could have an impact here,” she told me on Talkline this week.
In Kentucky, some of the protest signs read, “Don’t make us go West Virginia on you,” and chants of “West Virginia” echo through the throngs of protesters. Louisville Courier Journal reporter Mandy McLaren told me, “The Kentucky teachers are very aware that right next door the teachers had success there getting a pay raise after they walked off the job.”
Also, the protesting teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky have picked up on themes that were common here—that politicians are not committing the money necessary to have a quality public education and teachers do not feel as though they are respected as professionals.
Kentucky teachers were particularly outraged when Governor Matt Bevin called teachers “selfish” and “shortsighted.”
The teachers and service workers who went on strike in West Virginia were a powerful and unified force. Their commitment to “55 Strong” was unshakable during the walkout, creating a wall of resistance that could only be disassembled when their demands were met.
They remained confident throughout the strike that they would prevail, and they did. What they may not have known, however, is that their voices would carry far beyond the halls of the State Capitol.