MEADOWBROOK, W.Va. — Harrison County teachers are building momentum to rally in Charleston in opposition to PEIA and the one percent pay increase proposed by Gov. Jim Justice.
Roughly 400 teachers attended a meeting at Jewel City Church in Meadowbrook Tuesday night to discuss their frustrations in response to the proposal.
“Absolutely that’s the last resort,” said Lillie Junkins, president of the Harrison County Education Association. “A strike or a work stoppage is something that we definitely want to try to avoid, but if people in Charleston are not willing to listen to us, we’ll make our voices heard.”
However, Junkins said at least 70 percent of teachers and staff in Harrison County would support a strike if necessary.
“There are only about three counties in the state that are fully on board, that are over 70 percent for a work stoppage, and from what I’m feeling after the response last week, Harrison County will be the fourth. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of that, but it’s only four counties out of 55.”
Teachers largest complant is of PEIA, which Junkins said is invasive and “something that they should not be able to impose on us.
“We are extremely busy as it is in the classroom and doing things that we do throughout the year, and we have our own ways of getting in shape and taking care of ourselves, and we don’t feel like PEIA should be able to mandate the way that we take care of ourselves,” she said.
“Not only that but in the end, it will result in a paycut for us, and we’re already 47th in the nation, so we feel like that’s something that’s unexceptable to us.”
Junkins, like many educators in the state, believe PEIA should be fully funded.
“They did not make the necessary adjustments in the budget years past to fully fund PEIA, and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in now,” she said. “It shouldn’t fall on the backs of teachers and state employees, so we’re not going to sit back and just allow that to happen.”
Representatives of each of Harrison County’s schools shared their own poll numbers, peaking with 98 percent of the teachers and staff at Robert C. Byrd High School in Clarksburg in favor of a strike. Bridgeport High School reported 95 percent in favor, 90 percent at Clarksburg’s Liberty High School, 85 percent at Lincoln High School in Shinnston and 70 percent at South Harrison.
Similarly, each of the county’s middle school polled more than 70 percent in favor. Elementary schools ranged from 91 percent in favor at Nutter Fort to only 50 percent at Adamston.
However, Junkins said the teachers would like to avoid a strike if possible.
“It would really be to our disadvantage to just run out the doors right now,” she said. “If a work stoppage is really want you want to avoid, we have to keep showing up at these, and we have to keep moving forward.”
Harrison County’s Sen. Mike Romano, House Minority Leader Tim Miley and Delegate Richard Iaquinta each attended the meeting to show their support.
“You don’t take these jobs to get rich,” Miley said. “You do this because you have a passion. You were promised good benefits, and when they start to erode those benefits is when you ought to get ticked off.”
As a former West Virginia teacher, Delegate Iaquinta said this is affecting not only the current teachers in the state, but it’s also deterring future educators from staying in the state.
“We don’t have good teachers, we have great teachers, and they’ve dedicated their lives, and it’s so encouraging to think there’s 22,000 with one voice can change the way the legislature thinks. We’ve got to have one voice,” Iaquinta said.
Iaquinta said the one percent increase equates to only $12 million out of a $4.3 billion state budget.
“I’m one of only seven teachers in the House. Out of 100 of us, there’s only seven,” he said. “Those seven try to reason and talk, and the more we reason and talk, the lower we’ve been brought.”
Junkins said it means a lot to have the support of the legislators, as well as the support of the Harrison County Board of Education.
“There are a lot of young people in the county teaching that are afraid, and they’re not real sure,” Junkins said. “People are uncertain about the future and afraid of losing their jobs, and they don’t want to walk out on the kids.
“Throughout time, they’ve utilized that a lot. They’ve used that against teachers. They count on the fact that we do care about kids,” she said. “We definitely do not want to desert or abandon our students, but we also know that if we don’t stand up against some of the things that are coming our way, the students are ultimately going to suffer.”
A regional meeting will be held Feb. 5 at 6 p.m., in conjunction with Monongalia, Marion, Taylor, Preston, Doddridge and Braxton counties. The location is TBA.
An educational rally will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday on the Walmart side of Emily Drive.