The West Virginia school workers’ strike is set to continue throughout this week after rank-and-file union members rejected a deal recommended by their leaders.
Around 20,000 teachers and 13,000 support staff are demanding a 5 percent pay rise alongside increased employer contributions to the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) health insurance plan.
The Republican-controlled state senate finance committee voted for a 4 percent pay rise last Saturday. That’s despite the state governor and lower house backing the 5 percent under pressure.
In a bizarre twist Republican governor Jim Justice, whose personal wealth stands at £1.2 billion, even went as far as to tell strikers to “stay united.
“Don’t settle for less, even if they offer you 4.9 percent and nineteen chickens,” he said.
That shows the level of support teachers have.
Teachers and other workers are refusing to back down over pay—or for the dispute to to limited to pay.
As West Virginia teacher Christina told Socialist Worker, “The raise is well overdue, but the issue was our insurance coverage.
“We will not return to the classroom until PEIA is funded.”
The union leaderships have been pushed into the background after mass teachers’ meetings voted overwhelmingly to continue strikes.
In a statement last Friday the workers’ AFT, WVEA and WVSSPA unions implored state senator Carmichael to “pass the bill on Saturday and get our students back in the classroom.”
This puts the union leaderships on collision course with strikers who want a resolution to the insurance question as well as pay.
Sam, another teacher, told Socialist Worker how hard life will be if it isn’t resolved. “I can't continue to pay £360 in fees on the spot for my kids to have their wisdom teeth removed and then £1,440 for the actual.” she said. “£360 is almost a weeks' net pay—a 5 percent raise won't help much.
“Something has to give.”