Public employees lay out demands during major rally in Clarksburg

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Public employees lay out demands during major rally in Clarksburg
By Alex Wiederspiel, WV MetroNews

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Hundreds of educators and service personnel rallied at Robert C. Byrd High School on Monday night, receiving updates and encouragement from teachers and local union representatives — and discussing their demands.

Greg Phillips, who teaches at RCB and is the vice president of the Harrison County Education Association, said the top priority for teachers, service personnel, and public workers is fully funding the Public Employee Insurance Agency.

“What we want is for it to be fully funded in a way that doesn’t reduce our paychecks,” Phillips said. “That’s the biggest thing.”

They sang. They chanted. They listened to their peers. They heard from at least five local representatives in Charleston — including three Democrats and two Republicans. At times, it was too loud to know what anyone was saying.

“It was impressive,” Phillips said. “Especially Lewis County showed up in great number. Every county that touched Harrison except for Wetzel was here, and we even had somebody from Preston County.”

Turnout included representatives from Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, Lewis, Doddridge, Upshur, and Barbour counties. Phillips and an assortment of other speakers said they would fight for a four percent pay raise for the next five years — a direct shot at S.B. 267, which the state Senate unanimously passed increasing teacher pay by one percent for the next five years.

“We aren’t expecting great increases,” Phillips said. “We’re teachers. We understand that we got into this to serve people, but we don’t expect pay cuts. And that’s what this amounts to.”

The common thread of complaint includes ongoing changes to PEIA leading to greater out-of-pocket costs for public employees, Phillips said.

“The increase to our rates in PEIA far outreaches what the one percent covers,” he said. “That’s we’re saying one percent isn’t enough — not because we’re truly insulted by it. But, because, we’re taking a pay cut, but it looks like you’re giving us a raise.

House Minority Leader Tim Miley (D – Harrison, 51) was joined by fellow Democrats Del. Richard Iaquinta (D – Harrison, 51) and Senator Mike Romano (D – Harrison, 12), along with Republicans Delegate Ben Queen (R – Harrison, 51), and Delegate Danny Hamrick (R – Harrison, 51).

“I think I can speak for Dems in the West Virginia Senate and the House,” Romano said. “We’re behind you 100 percent.”

Miley, who endorsed the four percent pay raise, told the crowded gymnasium that “you have them on the run in Charleston.”

Fellow delegates Queen and Hamrick both spoke. At one point, Hamrick received audible blowback from the audience when he said, “We’ve heard you in Charleston.” Hamrick later said he’d vote for “as big a pay raise as the state can afford,” after he was posed a direct question by one of the speakers.

Service personnel representatives also audibly expressed their commitment to join in a walkout, if that’s what is determined as the best course of action.

“They were in strong force tonight,” Phillips said. “They’re very excited, and they know that we’re with them. We’re all together.”

Harrison County educators and service personnel are convening to take an action authorization vote this week. Those numbers will later be reported to the state-level union brass as part of a larger meeting to gauge what type of action the local unions and their representatives wish to take.

That meeting is expected to be Feb. 11 in Flatwoods.