(CN) – Teachers and other school personnel from all 55 West Virginia Counties will walk off their jobs Thursday and Friday voice their concerns over pay and health care.
The announcement of the job action by the West Virginia Education Association follows weeks of growing tension between educators and other public employees and the state legislature.
Teacher protested all day on Friday, Feb. 16, and again on Saturday, even while as a non-stop rain on the state Capitol.
The protesters want state lawmakers to fully fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency and increase pay.
But West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has proposed freezing PEIA — a move that would mean that previously approved changes to the program that would raise costs for all state employees would not take effect until next fiscal year.
Justice said he hoped the freeze would give legislators to find a long-term fix for the program.
On Friday, they were clearly scrambling.
As protestors rallied outside, the West Virginia Senate, led by Senator Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, voted to shut down until early evening, when they hoped the crowds outside would subside.
As the Republican majority voted, Democrats on the floor and protestors in the gallery stood and shouted their displeasure.
The tension in the Senate began earlier when Senator Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, made a motion to discharge the Senate’s teacher pay-raise bill from the Senate Rules Committee.
The Senate had initially passed a 1 percent pay raise, but the House of Delegates doubled the increase for teachers and public employees — sending the revised bill back to the Senate for reconsideration.
On Sunday, the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association voted to authorize a work action, the first such vote in the organization’s 52-year history.
The West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia also voted to walk out.
Teachers’ unions say the 1 percent or 2 percent pay raise proposals aren’t enough to keep current teachers in the classroom or recruit new teachers.
Further, they said a House’s proposal to shore up PEIA for the coming year with a $29 million infusion from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” does not provide needed long-term stability for the program.
The teachers have demanded at least a 5 percent pay increase and no new increases of the premiums they pay for health insurance.