By: Ryan Quinn, Charleston Gazette-Mail
Republican Gov. Jim Justice promised last week to offer school workers and other state employees another 5 percent raise, plus $100 million to fund looming cost increases to their health insurance coverage, all without another school worker strike.
Union leaders suggested Justice’s new proposal is because he fears possible anti-GOP sentiment in the midterm election that’s about a month away. Justice didn’t reference that, but he did reach back and credit Republicans with passing the last 5 percent raise, while seemingly discrediting the strike.
“At the end of the day, the teachers’ pay raise last year — the teachers pay raise — that all happened not because of people that were rah-rahing and everything upstairs, it happened because of the good work of the Republicans,” Justice said at the new raise announcement.
Republicans did, in the end, pass the 5 percent raise unanimously alongside Democrats, save for one absent delegate. But the governor, the Republican House of Delegates majority and the Republican Senate majority earlier supported lower raises and didn’t support a 5 percent raise until days into the nine-day statewide strike, which itself began about 20 days after a first work stoppages in three counties.
The House did vote for a 5 percent raise for teachers, school service personnel and State Police about a week before the Senate did. When the Senate finally passed a 5 percent raise, it was for those groups and state workers more broadly.
The fact Republican leaders changed their positions on raises isn’t highlighted in news releases from the West Virginia’s Future Political Action Committee, which Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, is working with.
“West Virginia Republican Leadership worked with educators to provide the largest pay increase in state history,” the PAC wrote in a July 20 email titled “The Republican Raise for WV Teachers vs. the Beltway Union’s Radical Agenda.”
The Gazette-Mail hasn’t yet independently confirmed whether it’s the largest raise. A Senate spokeswoman sent a document she said was from a state agency that showed $2,000 raises around 1990-91 and 1992-93, which exceed this year’s $2,020 raise, if inflation is factored in.
Another PAC email, on Aug. 29, quoted Carmichael saying “It was the Republican-led legislature that responsibly passed raises for teachers, school service personnel, and state employees.”
“The truth is we balanced the budget, we found the money for the additional pay raise, and we’re happy to do it,” Carmichael said Tuesday of the previous raise. “And I think the evidence of that is the fact that we’re happy to do the next round of pay raises because we have the money now.”
Asked whether the strike influenced the decision to increase the raise to 5 percent, he said, “It is an influence, yes. I mean, we love hearing from our education community and from the public employees, it’s important that they provide their perspective. But if we had not found the money, you know, that’s — it’s imperative that we find the money.”
Here’s some of what Justice and Carmichael were saying, in their own words, about raises before the strike, amid it and following it.
Gov. Jim Justice
“We’re going to give a 1 percent raise across-the-board to everyone, this year and next year, and I’m budgeting in an additional 1, 1, 1 on the teachers for the following three years.” — Jan. 10, unveiling his initial 2018 proposal.
“I really believe steadfastly we should hold.” — Feb. 2, defending his initial proposal, on the day of the first county work stoppages.
“When’s enough enough? Doing more than what has already been proposed at this time, based on the numbers that I have, would be ridiculous.” — Feb. 23, a day after the statewide strike began and two days after he signed a bill that would’ve given school workers a higher, 2 percent raise for this school year, and an additional 1 percent in the two following years.
“He looked right back at me and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be an investment to invest in smart teachers that would make me smart, and then I could, in turn, turn around and do smart, good things for our state?’ Well, he’s right, he’s right, and to be perfectly honest, in a lot of ways, I was looking at this, maybe, not correctly.” — Feb. 27, when he quoted a sixth-grader who he said helped changed his mind. The governor and union leaders then announced a deal they thought (wrongly) would end the strike: a task force to study PEIA, a 5 percent increase for school workers and a 3 percent raise for all other state employees, all effective this school year, instead of spread out.
“A good coach is always willing to step up to the plate and say, ‘You know, I wasn’t thinking about that the right way.’ And I did that.” — March 6, the day the strike actually ended, after the Senate backed 5 percent for school employees and other state workers.
“It took a while for us to all get together, but this was anything but a labor movement, in my opinion.” — March 7, in a Fox News television interview, the day after the historic strike ended.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael
“We want to give more pay raises and we love our teachers and we respect their work but we can’t do more than we can do. It would be irresponsible to bow to political pressure.” — Jan. 29, on MetroNews’ Talkline radio program. [MetroNews reported this quote at the time.]
“We’ve put $30 million into PEIA to stabilize that fund. To shut the doors of our schools because it’s not enough, when it’s all that the poorest people in America can afford, then that’s unfortunate.” — Feb. 16, when the second, larger wave of county work stoppages shut schools. The Senate didn’t act on a 2 percent raise bill that day.
“I think we’re on the right path. We appreciate hearing from the education community. Again, I’ll reiterate the fact that I wish they would have stayed in school. I think it’s an illegal walkout, and I’m disappointed they felt they had to come here to make those points known. I felt those points had already been taken into account.” — Feb. 22, the day the statewide strike began.
“We change what’s right for West Virginia based on an outpouring of emotion from a particular group of people? We shouldn’t be susceptible to that, we should absolutely do the right thing based on the data and analysis and so forth.” — Feb. 22, the same day.
“It would be completely frivolous and ridiculous to embrace this proposal this far down the session.” — Feb. 27, to MetroNews, in reaction to the Justice-union proposal to end the strike with 5 percent for school workers and 3 percent for state workers. [Metro News reported this quote at the time.]
“Yesterday’s announcement underscores our unwavering commitment to support the thousands of devoted educators across our state.” — Oct. 3, in a tweet, referencing Justice’s new proposals.