Teachers rally, meeting to consider strike authorization votes

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Teachers rally, meeting to consider strike authorization votes
By Jeff Jenkins, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Strike authorization votes could come from teachers in a handful of West Virginia counties Monday evening as frustration grows with rising insurance costs and a proposed one percent pay increase in each of the next five years.

Teachers rallied Monday morning at several locations in Wyoming County. Parents and elected officials joined them. Delegate Tony Paynter (R-Wyoming) was there and told members of the House during Monday’s floor session teachers mean business.

 “There was probably 50 to 100 people at each one (rally),” Paynter said. “I don’t think a lot of people understand just how much anger there is out there over PEIA right now.”

Approved changes in the Public Employees Insurance Agency plan for next fiscal year include basing premiums on total family income, which will mean premium increases for some state workers, including teachers.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said the teacher meetings will include teachers who are members of his organization and the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers. He said union representatives will first make sure the groups have all of the accurate information on what’s happening in Charleston.

“There’s so much misinformation out there on the internet and different Facebook groups. We want to make sure that people have accurate information,” Lee said.

The state Senate is scheduled to take a final vote Wednesday on the pay raise bill proposed by Gov. Jim Justice. It would increase teachers pay by one percent each of the next five years. It comes to about $400 a year.

A strike authorization vote is one of several different options for the groups at their meetings. The groups could make different decisions per county, Lee said.

“All of our locals are autonomous,” he said.

Paynter said he could tell at Monday’s rallies in Wyoming County that the situation is snowballing.

“It’s going to get worse. You can see it coming. Just talking to them that’s (PEIA changes) is their number one concern,” he said.

During an appearance Monday on MetroNews “Talkline,” state Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) said he would be disappointed to hear of teachers considering striking over a pay raise.

“We respect our teachers and we respect their work but we can’t do more than we can do,” Carmichael said. “It would be irresponsible to bow to political pressure.”

Carmichael said the economy is turning around and he asked teachers Monday to give the legislature “a chance.”

“I think we are moving in the right direction and I hope people are pleased with the progress we are making. Certainly there are always those that want more and they want it quicker but we are going to have to do this responsibly,” Carmichael said.

Lee said teachers are “angry” not only with the raise question and PEIA but with other issues being discussed by lawmakers.

“When there’s no positive education bill out there but you want to talk about doing away with their seniority or education savings accounts, further take away money from public education, people are angry,” Lee said.

Gov. Jim Justice has proposed a $14 million increase in the state Tourism budget for additional advertising. Paynter said teachers believe the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“Tourism is important but wouldn’t you think before we want people to come here we’d be better off with trying to get people to stay here,” he said.

Teachers have scheduled meetings for Monday evening in Mercer, Wyoming and McDowell counties. Raleigh County teachers are scheduled to meet Tuesday evening.

The last teachers strike in West Virginia was an 11-day work stoppage in 1990. It became in March at the end of the legislature’s regular session. Later that year lawmakers met in special session when lawmakers approved a three-year pay raise package and several other education items.

It is illegal for public employees to strike in West Virginia.