On February 22, some 22,000 members of the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia went on strike, closing down every school district in the state. Educators were also joined on the picket lines by school support staff, members of West Virginia School Service Personnel Association.
After 9 days on strike--including daily actions at the state capitol--they forced the state legislature to pass a 5 percent raise for all West Virginia state employees. They also forced the governor to freeze health insurance co-pays and premiums, which were set to increase dramatically next year.
Chronic problems with the state’s health insurance plan help explain why rank-and-file educators rejected a deal last week between the governor and union leaders. "We’re not going back to work until there’s solid proof that our demands are going to be met,” said Jay O’Neal, a Charleston middle school teacher.
Like many of his co-workers, O’Neal wants corporations, particularly out-of-state energy companies, to pay their fair share of state taxes. Support for a severance tax on natural gas has been high among the thousands of educators who jammed the state capitol this past week.
What makes this strike--and their victory--even more remarkable is the fact that educators in West Virginia do not have the right to collectively bargain. This is exactly the kind of grassroots energy and organizing Oregon educators will need to harness if the Supreme Court hands down an anti-union ruling in the Janus vs. AFSCME case.
The PAT Executive Board voted to contribute $500 to the West Virginia Teacher’s Association Strike Fund to help support these dedicated educators as they continue their fight for a living wage and affordable benefits.