West Virginia teachers win pay raise

After a statewide teachers strike that lasted nine consecutive school days, the state legislature passed and the governor signed a deal that gave them a 5% raise and would also look into reducing the rapidly increasing costs of the public sector insurance program.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill Tuesday that gives a 5% pay raise to all state employees, including striking teachers and school staff.

Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers, said the deal was a “huge breakthrough” for school employees and for doing what’s right.

“You have a story here, a modern-day story, of labor solidarity on an issue that is irrefutable,” she said. “That for teachers to stay in our profession, for bus drivers and support staff to stay and do this work, we need a livable wage, and we need the conditions in schools that we can help kids thrive.”

Separately, the governor agreed to set up a task force to address the state health insurance program on March 13.

There was some disagreement about how to pay for the increase in salaries. The Republican legislators, being the kind of people they are, are not raising taxes on the wealthy or businesses but are threatening to cut services that largely benefit the less well-to-do.

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

“With this agreement today to reduce spending in state government, in order to give every single dollar available to our public employees, we’ve achieved the goal of being fiscally responsible while also getting a pay raise that will help our teachers get back in the classroom and our students back to school,” said Senate Majority leader Ryan Ferns, a Republican.

Justice told CNN that the funding would not come out of Medicaid or Medicare; the subject will come up in budget negotiations.

Meanwhile teachers in Oklahoma are also threatening to strike and the victory by the teachers in West Virginia will no doubt encourage them.


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