On Thursday, the public school teachers of West Virginia staged a wildcat strike. Without authorization from either of the state’s two education unions—the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—teachers walked out to register their dissatisfaction with the government’s response to their grievances.
Earlier in the week, Republican Governor Jim Justice and the unions’ state leads had come up with a compromise bill, HB 4145, that raised teacher pay by 5 percent. But it did not create a permanent fix for the Public Employee Insurance Agency, which is meant to provide all public employees with affordable health insurance but has effectively been cutting funding every year. As I previously reported, some teachers distrusted the deal when it was first announced on Wednesday. A letter that day from Justice to state employees announcing the formation of a PEIA task force did not mollify many of them.
On Wednesday night, the bill passed the state House. On Thursday, Senate Republicans voted against taking it up. Shortly afterwards, news of further teacher walkouts began rolling across social media. At 6:02 pm, it was official: There would be no public school in West Virginia on Friday, which means schools across the state will have been closed for a full week. And now, teachers are demanding that lawmakers take a hard look at fixing PEIA, possibly using a modest tax hike on the coal and gas industries.
All schools in #Wetzel Co closed Fri 3/2/18 due to lets just say it has nothing to do with weather
— WV SnowDay (@WVSnowDay) March 1, 2018
It’s not clear now when the strike will end, and state Democrats are pinning the blame on Republicans. Minority Leader Roman Prezioso told me on Thursday that he’s not surprised Republicans voted to table the bill. “We think that it’s a stall tactic,” he explained, “and that their ulterior motive is to turn public sentiment against the teachers.”