After nine cancelled school days across West Virginia, the House and Senate have unanimously pushed through a bill that will raise state employees’ pay by 5%. Governor Jim Justice spoke before a crowd of elated teachers at the state capitol, saying that, “It took a lot of pulling for everyone to get there…But we’re there.”
We accomplished something important today — investing in our teachers and state employees like they deserve. But we’re not done yet. I won’t rest until we find a way to solve the issues facing PEIA and keep its coverage affordable for WV employees and their families. pic.twitter.com/q3mep3dW5i
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) March 6, 2018
Twenty-thousand teachers walked out of school on February 22nd, demanding higher wages and benefits, and effectively shutting down 50 schools.
The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, cheered the educators’ “labor solidarity” and pushing for conditions that would allow the best possible environments for their students to learn.
West Virginia teachers are paid less than teachers in 47 other states, apart from Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. A particularly pressing motivation for the strike was the Public Employee Insurance Agency, or PEIA, the state employee health insurance program that many have called unaffordable.
The standoff could have been resolved over the weekend, but Republican senators approved a bill that would only increase pay by 4%. Teachers refused to accept anything less than a 5% raise, and continued to vacate schools. The raise is the largest pay raise in Virginia’s history. The success of the West Virginia strike appears to have inspired Oklahoman educators, who say they are considering their own protest next month.
At the end of the day, which side of the aisle won the battle? Governor Justice says neither, but rather, “the idea and the premise that we ought to invest in education and let education be an economic driver for us.”
According to CNN, school in West Virginia is expected to resume on March 7th.
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