RIPLEY, W.Va. — Teachers, service personnel and their supporters rallied Saturday from Fayetteville to Martinburg a day ahead of a meeting of leaders of the two teachers unions set for Sunday in Flatwoods.
Teachers held umbrellas in one hand and signs in the other as vehicles passed by in Kanawha, Fayette, Braxton, Marion, Berkeley and Jackson counties to name a few. They continue to express concern about pay, PEIA and other education issues being discussed by some lawmakers that teachers say show them a lack of respect.
When state Senate President Mitch Carmichael arrived at a Ripley coffee shop where he usually spends his Saturday mornings he was approached by teachers. Carmichael later came out of the shop and spent more than an hour talking to them, he told MetroNews.
“I discussed with them that we are doing all we can,” Carmichael said. “I felt at the end of the discussion we understood the relative positions each group finds themselves in.”
The Senate has approved Gov. Jim Justice’s pay raise bill that calls for teachers to receive a one percent raise each year for five years. Carmichael also supports the proposed freeze of PEIA for 17 months at a cost of $29 million.
Carmichael said talk of a possible teacher strike didn’t come up during the impromptu meeting.
“We’re tired of being last,” was the overwhelming message of a rally in Martinsburg Saturday.
Thomas Fletcher, a retired teacher in Berkeley County, spoke to the crowd and said a two-percent raise under consideration in the House wouldn’t be enough in order to compete with surrounding states.
“We’re so far behind the surrounding counties that we will have to have a long term deal and that’s what we need,” said Fletcher. “We need a long term solution to salaries in this state.”
Many politicians and representatives also spoke at the rally.
Delegate Jason Barrett (D-Berkeley) told the crowd that the House Democrats plan to present an amendment to the Capitol next week.
“We have a plan to amend a bill on Monday that’s a three-percent pay raise each of the next three years,” said Barrett. “The plan from the governor of one-percent for five years is just unacceptable.”
Barrett added that he hopes that the amendment can get passed but also acknowledged that there are 20 plus days left in the regular session and they have some time to get to a solution.
Terri Young, president of the Jefferson County Schools Service Personnel, told WEPM that the issue isn’t just a “teacher” issue as state employees are affected as well. She said state employee groups from around the state are planning on demonstrating at the Capitol next Saturday.
“They’re all going to be there,” she said. “They’re all going to rally and we’re all going to fight for all of us.”
After the crowd gathered to hear the speakers, demonstrators from teachers, state employees, and students lined up across Foxcroft Avenue with signs to gather support from those who drove by.
Trey Henry, a senior at Martinsburg High School who will be majoring in education at Fairmont State in the fall, said the rally is also about the future of the state.
“All of these people here today have lead me to want to become an educator so to be able to fight for raising their pay is awesome,” said Henry. “Especially when it helps me in the long run, it helps their kids, it will help my kids one day. Anything for the teachers.”
County teacher union presidents of both the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers will meet with union leaders Sunday afternoon in Flatwoods. WVEA President Dale Lee said information will be exchanged.
“We’ll let them know what’s happening in Charleston and they’re going to give us some information on what’s going on in their individual counties and then we’ll have a better understanding of statewide where we stand and we’ll collectively come up with a plan of action from there,” Lee said on MetroNews “Talkline” Friday.
Both Lee and WV-AFT President Christine Campbell said they came out of a meeting Friday morning with House leadership “encouraged” about being included in discussions about a long-term fix to PEIA.
”House leadership wants to work on a long-term fix which is very encouraging,” Campbell said.
Reporter Elias McMillan of WEPM Radio in Martinsburg contributed to this story.