To quote my headline from yesterday’s commentary: “Teachers jump the gun on strike call.”
I was wrong.
The premise of Tuesday’s commentary was that there was no reason for the teachers and service workers to strike while the legislature was still working on the massive and controversial education reform bill.
Additionally, strikes by West Virginia public employees are illegal, but that doesn’t seem to matter much anymore.
I thought the public would be less sympathetic to a strike than they were last year, especially since the bill included an average five percent pay raise—the second in as many years—and this year’s issues were more about charter schools, education savings accounts and their anger toward Senate President Mitch Carmichael.
Republicans thought they had their ducks in a row on a final version of the bill that included up to seven charter schools and limited education savings accounts for students with special needs or students who have been bullied.
House Republicans had reportedly whipped 52 of their members to approve the Senate version. One theory had the bill then immediately going to Governor Jim Justice for his signature.
Union leaders knew many of their more vocal members were ready to storm the Capitol so they opened the gates. As word of the strike spread and union leaders lobbied fence-sitting Republicans in the House, the GOP plan began to crumble.
Then came Tuesday. Schools shutdown statewide, teachers and service workers set up picket lines at schools and flooded the Capitol. The scene was a carbon copy of last year’s 55 Strong protests with strikers chanting, singing and pressuring lawmakers to kill the bill.
The show of force by pickets at the Capitol caused the House Republicans to collapse as a number of them joined in support of Delegate Mike Caputo’s (D-Marion) motion to table the bill indefinitely. His motion passed 53-45 with 12 Republicans supporting it (and 2 absent), thus killing the bill.
A short time later, Governor Jim Justice called on lawmakers to support a clean bill that includes only the pay raise. We’ll have to see what happens with that.
West Virginians will have to decide whether they believe teachers were right to strike, but the events unfolded so quickly and union members hit the picket lines with such speed that the public really didn’t have time to react. And I still believe the good in the bill far outweighed the concerns the unions have about a few charter schools, education savings accounts and reduction in force rules.
However, from a strategic standpoint it is clear that the 55 Strong movement remains powerful. Underestimating their influence, and their timing, as I did yesterday, was a mistake.