West Virginia teachers cheer pay hike deal to end walkout

Abbie Burge a Parkersburg South High School art teacher poses with her sign at the capitol in Charleston W. Va. on Monday

West Virginia Teachers Strike Ends With 5% Pay Raise

Health care is a key element of the fight in West Virginia, where even the prospect of a modest pay hike is wiped out by declining benefits, which had until recently been a key draw to the public sector.

Teachers cheered in the Senate gallery after the 34-0 approval.

Teachers walked off the job February 22, balking at an initial bill signed by Gov. Jim Justice to bump up their pay 2 per cent in the first year as they also complained about rising health insurance costs.

Numerous teachers disagreed with a proposed deal that did not include permanent fixes to PEIA, which requires employees to pay high premiums. Currently, the plan has been frozen from further changes for 16 months. A state Department of Education spokeswoman didn't return an email message.

News of an agreement first began to circulate the morning of March 6.

Justice had announced a similar deal a week ago, and union leaders accepted the proposal.

On this edition of Your Call, we'll continue our coverage of the West Virginia teachers' strike, which is now on its ninth day.

Both houses of the Legislature suspended rules and passed the bill by 1 p.m.

In a news conference, the Governor said he found room in the budget for a five percent raise for teachers, and that he would form a task force to find a fix for PEIA. "All the focus should have always been on fairness and getting the kids back in school".

West Virginia's teachers are applauding the unanimous Senate approval of a 5 percent raise in pay for teachers and troopers, in a deal to end a nine-day walkout that closed schools statewide.

There will be no tax increase to offset the raise, and Blair said the government will see a $20 million reduction in spending out of cuts to general services and Medicaid.

He said Tuesday that additional budget cuts by his staff will enable all state workers to also get 5 percent raises.

"I want to make sure there's not a back-room deal here that's punishing people who are too poor to go to the doctor", Michael A. Woelfel, a Democrat, also noted on the State Senate floor, the New York Times reported.

West Virginia House Democrats called the ordeal, which kept kids from school for almost two weeks, "legislative malpractice at worst, and legislative sleight of hand at best".

Krieg notes that West Virginia and Oklahoma may be the start of a trend.

Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, said by phone from West Virginia that the strike was indicative of the state's long history of labor activism as a coal mining hub and of the planning that educators had done before walking out.

"We overcame. We overcame!" teacher Danielle Harris exclaimed, calling it a victory for students as well. The Senate offered only 4 percent. A legislative conference committee was appointed to resolve differences between bills in the House and Senate. When the planned Thursday end to their action came, the teachers extended it, launching a wildcat strike, a strike action taken by members of a union without the union leadership's authorization, which is illegal in the US. Details were not disclosed publicly.

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