Statewide Teachers Strike Closes all Schools in West Virginia
Teachers across the state walked out in protest of wage freezes and higher insurance costs
Teachers and students woke up on Thursday morning to a strange sight, almost every public school in West Virginia was closed. It wasn’t snowing and there wasn’t a hurricane bearing down on the state, instead, teachers were holding a statewide boycott, closing schools for the rest of the week.
The teachers announced the walkout to protest low pay, small proposed raises after several years without any, and projected hikes to their insurance costs. Teachers in West Virginia are some of the lowest paid in the country, coming in at 48th.
Contracts in the state are between the teachers and the state government, not local school districts meaning that progress will only be made if the state legislature can get their act together. In an effort to avoid a strike, legislators passed an emergency bill that would provide a 2% raise for next year and then a 1% raise for the following two years, but teachers say that is not enough. “In some respects, the pay bill upset them more," said West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) Spokesperson Kym Randolph.
While teachers are worried about their students missing important days of school, they also say that they have had enough and are willing to stay out until progress is made. “It’s to preserve and hold the promise for public education,” said Fred Albert, a 6th-grade math teacher at Kanawha County’s Dupont Middle School.
Teachers are also upset over a number of anti-union and anti-teacher bills that have been passed over the last few years. They include making West Virginia Right to Work, passing a paycheck deception bill, instituting a school voucher program, and making changes to educator seniority rights. “There are so many things that our members and our teachers and service personnel are upset about,” said Wendy Peters, a 3rd-grade teacher at Daniels Elementary School.
The walkout is the first ever to include all schools in the state’s 55 counties. While public employee strikes are illegal in West Virginia, WVEA officials said that they were not shying away from striking due to fear of legal blowback. “What are they going to do, fire 15,000 people?” said WVEA President Dale Lee.
The teachers hope that the walkout will lead to more fruitful negotiations between the legislature and the union over the weekend.