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Unions hold press conference over unrest with salary and PEIA proposals

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Unions hold press conference over unrest with salary and PEIA proposals

CHARLESTON – Speaking on behalf of thousands of public employees, leaders from AFT-WV, WVEA, UMWA, CWA and the West Virginia AFL-CIO called on lawmakers to work on a long-term strategy to make salaries for state employees competitive with contiguous states.

“There’s a lot of unrest among public employees out there,” WV AFL-CIO President Josh Sword said. “We have a crisis on our hands within public employment. There’s anger, there’s frustration, and as a result, a real organic movement around the state calling for change.”

Union leaders credited Governor Jim Justice with starting the discussion this legislative session about pay raises for public employees -- including teachers, school service personnel, public safety and other state employees – but agree that the proposed 1 percent raise is not enough.  

“We’re calling on the elected leaders of West Virginia to listen to teachers, service personnel and public employees, and actually prove that this state values the work we do,” AFT-West Virginia President Christine Campbell said. “The coming weeks will determine where the legislative priorities truly are.”

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee noted that elected leaders and policymakers talk about the importance of public education and education employees but have done nothing to make salaries more competitive or improve working conditions.

“A 1 percent salary increase will not keep pace with our surrounding states or move us from our current ranking of 48th in the nation in average teacher salaries,” Lee said. “Year after year we are seeing vacancies in our schools filled by individuals who are not fully certified for the positions – this year that number is over 700 positions all over the state in every certification area, including elementary, education, English and special education.”

Campbell acknowledged that many teachers have expressed a desire to strike.

“It’s not something any of us take lightly,” she said. “First, we’re going to call on our legislators to do the right thing. We’re going to say it in our hometowns. We’re going to say it at the capitol. We’re going to say it in our schools and our districts… If our efforts appear futile, we’re prepared to take additional steps. We don’t want a strike - nobody does. We hope it won’t come to that. But if it does, we stand in unity with WVEA throughout this unrest.”

WV AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Andy Walters spoke on behalf of the Communications Workers of America and the United Mine Workers of America, both of which represent public employees.

“Pay has remained stagnant while other costs such as public employee insurance have skyrocketed,” Walters said. “We encourage legislators to work with Governor Justice to put together a comprehensive plan to address this crisis situation as soon as possible.”

Close to 200 union members and numerous legislators attended today’s press conference, which was held in conjunction with WV AFL-CIO’s annual Legislative Conference.

“Private sector union members are standing up for their brothers and sisters in the public sector,” Sword said. “We are unified in this call for action.” 

To view the press conference in its entirety, go to the various union’s Facebook page.