Teachers in Mingo and Logan Counties plan to go on strike Friday. The group is acting independently of the state West Virginia Education Association and American Teacher Federation of West Virginia.
Those unions are hosting meetings across the state to listen to teachers’ concerns and let them know their options if they do vote to strike.Teachers’ biggest concerns are salaries and PEIA.
The other concern was a PEIA wellness program called Go365, but Monday night Governor Jim Justice said in a press release the program will now be 100 percent voluntary. He also said he’s working to waive the $25/month penalty for not participating in Go365.
Unions say that’s a good first step, but there’s still a long way to go. State union leaders and state Senator Richard Ojeda spoke to a rowdy room of teachers who are demanding better pay.
“If you stick together strong, your voice will be heard,” Senator Ojeda said.
Rising insurance costs, combined with no raise in five years, has left teachers with a virtual pay cut year after year.
“Teachers are looking for a fair shake. A 1% raise, after years and years of not having a single raise, doesn’t even keep up with the cost of living increase in this state. Not to mention the fact that they’re going to increase premiums,” Lincoln High math teacher Adam Raizi told our sister station, 13 News.
There are more than 700 teacher openings in West Virginia, and unions say educators will continue leaving the state if pay and benefits don’t improve.
“We’re 48th in the nation in our average teacher salary. We were 30th at one time and we’ve just continued to free fall- and at some point it just has to stop,” Kym Randolph told 13 News. Randolph is the Deputy Director of Communications for the West Virginia Education Association.
“I’ve seen many a times the younger ones would come and work a week, two weeks, two month and then say I can cross the border and make $10,000 more. It’s just hard to keep up- we’re losing the battle,” AFT-WV staff representative Sidney Fragale explained.
The WVEA and AFT-WV are asking lawmakers for a big raise and additional funding for PEIA.
“The people in power- that they’ve let it come to this. They should not have let the public come out and say ‘I can’t live anymore, I can’t pay my bills.’ So shame on them and they need to step up,” Fragale added.
But the legislative process moves slowly, so unions are asking teachers to wait a few weeks before striking.
“But it’s heartening in the fact that they’re willing to say enough is enough,” Randolph said.
The AFT-WV and WVEA sat down with Justice administration officials last week, and have another meeting planned for this week. Governor Justice proposed a one percent pay raise in his State of the State, but educators say it’s not enough.
Lawmakers are still working to develop a budget. It’s not clear if they’ll have enough money to afford a higher raise.