On February 22, the teachers of West Virginia did not report to their classrooms. Instead, they descended upon the Capitol building in Charleston, chanting “We’re not leaving,” to protest their insufficient benefits and incredibly low wages.
courtesy of: CNN
In 2016, West Virginia’s high school teachers made an average of $45,240, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among the 50 states and District of Columbia, that is the 47th-lowest salary. Elementary and middle school teachers received the 46th-lowest salary that year.
courtesy of: The Washington Post
The strike began after Governor Jim Justice signed legislation providing a 2 percent salary increase starting in July for teachers, school service personnel and state police, in addition to scheduling a 1 percent pay hike for teachers in 2020 and 2021.
However, they believe this is not enough. High school teacher, Katie Endicott, told the New York Times, “As a West Virginia teacher — and I’ve been teaching 10 years — I only clear right under $1,300 every two weeks, and they’re wanting to take $300 more away from me for health care. They tell me it’s okay, because we’re going to give you a 1 percent pay raise. That equals out to 88 cents every two days.”
Teachers’ unions said the bill fails to address other concerns, like public employee insurance programs and health care costs, and the proposed wages will not cover the increasing cost of living.
On February 28, Governor Justice announced a plan to raise teachers’ salaries by 5 percent. As the proposed plan passed in the House of Delegates, many thought the strike was coming to an end; state union leaders said they would return to work the next day. Yet, many refused and schools remained closed as the Senate remains uncertain.
courtesy of: The Register~Herald
“This is a three-legged stool, right?” Kym Randolph, director of communications for the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA), a teacher union, told the Washington Post. “The governor, the House, and the Senate. And I think two legs are very solid. I think one is a little wobbly right now, and some statements have been made by members of the Senate that are causing some people to question whether or not the Senate is fully committed.”
Senate President Mitch Carmichael insists the state cannot afford raises that would end the strike.
Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, told CNN that while the educators are eager to get back to work, they want more than a promise from the Legislature before they do.
“This is something that has accumulated over the years. And (teachers and service personnel have) been lied to. And the trust factor, right now, is kind of slim. … What we’d like to see is things go back to normal, and they live up to an agreement and we move forward.”
courtesy of: The New York Times
For now, the sea of red T-shirts and posters remains outside the State Senate and Capitol buildings. As their chant suggests, they are not leaving anytime soon.