From the Front Lines

West Virginia Teachers Make History and Mandate a State-Wide Strike

Public school teachers in West Virginia have had enough.
All 55 counties across the state of West Virginia have chosen to go on strike – together – to bring awareness and change to teacher’s health insurance benefits and salary.
“The strike has put 20,000 teachers and 13,000 school service employees on the picket lines,” according to CNN.
Teachers in West Virginia earned $45,622 on average in 2016, making it 48th in the country for educator salaries.”
Comparing this to the national average where teachers earn a median salary of $58,030.
Teachers in West Virginia have not had a state-wide salary increase since 2014.
After failed attempts at negotiating improvements, the 55 counties in West Virginia decided to make history and strike as one body to force attention to the increasing decline in teacher’s working benefits.
Wishing to remain anonymous, Barbour County Kindergarten teacher, “Lynn,” who holds a Master’s Degree plus 30 graduate credits, and a specialization in Early Childhood education, outlines what efforts teachers attempted prior to unifying for this strike. “The decision to begin a work stoppage was made after attempts to contact legislators, perform informational rallies for our community, and conduct meetings with representatives, all done outside of school hours, were not taken seriously.”
Lynn continued that, “While salary increase is needed, it was not the priority which ignited this strike. My insurance is expected to raise $5,000 from what I’m paying now, plus increases to deductibles and copays. We were offered a $404 raise, which wouldn’t make a dent in what my insurance was going to go up. There were also bills in negotiation that would damage seniority, meaning our most veteran teachers could be let go without explanation. They also had a bill that would lower the requirements for becoming a teacher to simply anyone that had a degree, regardless of teaching certifications and licenses. Also, a bill that would allow vouchers for Charter schools and vouchers given to parents of special needs students to homeschool their child, which after receiving the money, could then turn around and re-enroll their child back into the school without having to return the money. All this was planning to take away from public education.”
Earlier this week, the governor, Jim Justice, recommended a five percent pay increase for teachers, but it has yet to clear the Senate. Teachers say that is not enough to address the need. In addition, the offerings from Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) are simply not enough. PEIA’s demands are too high, and a compromise needs to be made so that West Virginia teachers are not simply earning a salary to pay for health insurance benefits.
Teachers remain on strike, “55 Strong,” taking shifts to inform others about working conditions, insurance needs, and stagnant salaries.
Knowing how dedicated teachers are to their schools, teachers have also managed to make the news but in a way that highlights the struggles of their communities.  There is a higher-than-average percentage of families living in poverty in West Virginia, and the teachers have not ignored the needs of these students. Teachers are working to ensure that their students’ most basic needs are met, despite not holding a formal class each day.
Lynn also shared that the support they have received from locals, and the nation as a whole, has been astounding and reassuring.
“Fifty-five Strong” teachers are expected to continue picketing and fighting for improved health care benefits and salary while West Virginia school are expected to be closed at least through March 2nd.


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