Delegates narrowly passed a bill clarifying that a work stoppage or a strike by public employees is unlawful.
It goes back to the Senate, where it already passed, to reconcile some changes made in the House. One change made by delegates was removing a provision that would have canceled extracurricular activities during a strike.
In the House, Democrat after Democrat stood and argued against the bill, saying it’s already reflected by case law and to put it in writing adds insult to injury.
“I think it’s clear what we’re doing right now. We’re poking our fingers in the eye of public educators,” said Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell.
The only Republican who spoke in favor of it was House Education Chairman Joe Ellington.
Ellington, R-Mercer, said the bill simply states it’s unlawful for any public employee to strike against the state.
“This is just stating the obvious,” Ellington said.
“It’s not targeting one group or another. It’s just all public employees have the same thing.”
West Virginia has long recognized strikes by public employees as unlawful, but that’s largely been based on interpretations of case law.
“This is already illegal. Our courts have said so. We don’t need to,” Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said today.
The current bill would express that directly in state code: “Public employees in West Virginia have no right, statutory or otherwise, to engage in collective bargaining, mediation or arbitration, and any work stoppage or strike by public employees is hereby declared unlawful.
“Furthermore, any work stoppage or strike by employees of a county board of education poses a serious disruption to the thorough and efficient system of free schools, guaranteed to the children of West Virginia by section one, article XII of the Constitution of West Virginia.”
The bill defines a strike or work stoppage as events when an employee does not report to work as required by contract, does not have leave and is not otherwise prevented from reporting to work by circumstances beyond their control.
The bill also specifies that provisions that normally permit making up time or alternate instruction delivery methods do not apply to work stoppages.
The bill says county school boards should withhold pay for each day a teacher participates in a stoppage.
West Virginia teachers went on strike for nine days in 2018 for better wages and stable health insurance. A two-day strike in 2019 was in response to a broad-ranging education bill with a controversial charter schools provision.
Delegate Ed Evans, a longtime school system employee in his community, said he concluded in 1990 that he had to walk out with other teachers because “I had to. I couldn’t feed my family.”
“Do you think the teachers really won’t continue to strike because of this bill? If it’s bad enough, they’ll do it,” said Evans, D-McDowell.