Saturday, February 24, 2018

WV: Teachers Stand up to Trump's Billionaire Ally

While the rest of the nation was reeling from the murder of seventeen students and teachers in Parkland Florida, and while we've been wading through the resulting conversations about what we're (not) going to do about gun violence in America, the teachers of West Virginia have been taking a stand on another issue.

West Virginia's teachers walked out Thursday and Friday and shut down every single public school in all fifty-five counties across the state. They plan to do it again on Monday.

What's the issue?

Just the usual-- pay and respect.

The pay issue has been brewing in West Virginia for a while. According to the NEA, WV teachers rank 48th in US teacher pay, with an average starting salary of $32,435, and an average teacher salary of $44,701. You will be unsurprised to learn that West Virginia has trouble filling teaching vacancies; it's hard to attract teachers when the list of better places to work is basically "Anywhere else." Teachers in the state have pretty much had it.

Yeah, that kind of figures, doesn't it

West Virginia is ruled over by Governor Jim Justice, the state's richest man and only billionaire (he inherited a lucrative coal business from his father), who made some news by stepping up to change his party from Democrat to Republican  while standing side by side with Donald Trump.

Justice was reportedly offering just a 1% raise for each of the next few years. That wouldn't be enough of a raise to offset inflation, but it's even less of a raise when it's coupled with increased health insurance costs. West Virginia teachers were facing a pay cut, after going without a raise for a decade. Democrats were not much more help, offering to try to stump for a 3% raise.

Justice made some last minute sort-of-concessions, signing into law a whopping 2% increase for teachers and offering to freeze health insurance increases for sixteen months, but it was too little, too late.

The state-wide strike (first since 1990) is all the more extraordinary because strikes are illegal in West Virginia. And the Attorney General wants teachers and their district supervisors to remember it:

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, also issued a statement on Wednesday calling the strike unlawful and threatening to take legal action.

“Let us make no mistake, the impending work stoppage is unlawful,” Morrisey said. “We also stand ready to assist and support any county board of education or county superintendent as they enforce the law.”

“Breaking the law does not set a good example for our children,” he added.

You know what else does not set a god example for our children? Treating their teachers like second-class citizens and offering them bottom dollar. Telling children, "You don't really deserve the best we can attract to the state." However, the teachers' union is not terribly concerned:

“There’s rumor out there that anybody who takes this action is going to be fired,” West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told the Gazette-Mail. “That’s not a major concern of mine, we have 727 vacancies right now.”

State officials have also invoked the children, but WV teachers are way ahead of them-- one school that regularly makes food available for students to take home over the weekend provided an extra supply on Wednesday, and other schools are working with churches and local charities to make sure children's basic needs are still taken care of.

The teachers do reportedly have strong support from their communities, but it remains to see how things will turn out as the underpaid, under-respected teachers of West Virginia face off against the state's richest citizen. But there's no question they can use some support from the rest of us.


  1. How about the teachers expand the argument now that they have the attention of the media? Higher wages and lower health cost for all West Virginians. Make it a fight about community. Win over more supporters and allies and put the focus on more democracy.