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Education workers give union leaders work action “authorization” in statewide vote

FLATWOODS, W.Va. — Education workers in West Virginia have voted overwhelmingly to give their leaders the authorization to call for statewide work action in connection with the education reform bill moving through the state legislature.

The West Virginia Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-WV and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association met with their county leaders Saturday in Flatwoods. They counted the authorization votes that have been cast during the last week by members and non-members in public schools across the state.

“We have overwhelming approval to call work action as needed,” WVEA President Dale Lee said after the meeting. “The three organizations stand united.”

Senate Bill 451 was approved by the House Education Committee on a 15-10 vote Friday night. The committee made significant changes to the bill that originally passed the Senate. The charter school provision has been limited to a pilot project for two counties, the education savings account language was eliminated while innovation zones, which teachers support, were given $5 million in state funding.

The committee fully removed Senate language that would have put off paying teachers during any work stoppage. Members also changed reduction in force language that was originally in the Senate bill. Things teachers favor remain in the bill including a 5 percent pay raise.

There’s neither a date nor specifics on what kind of work action may be taken, AFT-WV President Fred Albert said Saturday.

“We are watching this bill as it passes through the process. As leaders we are standing together and are in constant contact with our members. We are watching every day, every hour with this bill,” he said. “Public  education is thriving in our state and we know we are doing a great job contrary to what others may say.”

As was the case during last year’s 9-day work stoppage, school service personnel are with the classroom teachers, according to service personnel president Joe White.

“The overwhelming response is huge. It’s huge,” White said Saturday in Flatwoods.

Lee called the vote results “a big vote of confidence” for education leaders.

“’They know we will do the best for the children of West Virginia. Our educators put our children first and they will make sure every child in West Virginia will have access to the best possible public education,” Lee said.

The statewide vote was called before the House Education Committee began working on the bill. Lee said it’s a better bill but many things could still happen to it.

“We have to be prepared for any action that may come,” he said.

The education leaders said they believe their members will be well-represented at two public hearings on the bill scheduled for Monday in the House Chamber. The first starts at 8:00 a.m. and the second at 5:30 p.m.

The education reform bill is now in the possession of the House Finance Committee.

“This bill still has a long way to go,” Lee said. “We discussed (Saturday) all of the options that can happen each step of the way. We have an overwhelming vote of confidence to the leadership to do what we have to do.”

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