PEIA, pay raises local concern

Community forum planned for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in Wesley Chapel on issues

CHARLESTON —Proposed changes to PEIA that would base employee premiums on whole-house income have led to concern for state employees and teachers who fall under the PEIA system.

Coupled with the possible increase in insurance premiums, the state senate has approved just a 1 percent pay raise for teachers – something educators say won’t cover the cost of their rise in premiums.

A local forum to address these concerns for teachers, service personnel and all state workers is being promoted for Thursday, Feb. 8 at 5:30 p.m. in Wesley Chapel on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College. That forum is being organized by the American Federation of Teachers — West Virginia and by the West Virginia Education Association.

On Monday, Upshur County Schools employees met for an informational meeting after school at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

Jan Craig led off the meeting with what was known up until that point.

She said it  was important to stress correct information including that West Virginia teacher pay is 48th in the nation.

The meeting ended with employees meeting with their respective associations – the Upshur County Education Association, AFT chapter for Upshur County, Upshur County Professional Educators and Upshur County School Service Personnel.

Two of those groups, UCEA and the AFT chapter, did not have a president and needed to elect one Monday.

Craig said she had previously stepped down after 25 years as president of UCEA because she was nearing retirement and wanted younger personnel to step up, but no one did.

On Monday, Craig agreed to resume her role as president until the end of the school year.

“I’m doing it temporarily through the end of the school year to get us through this,” she said.

Although the group meeting Monday was Upshur County educators,  Craig said these issues affect all state employees.

“If there is no change in what the state is looking at with raises and PEIA, all state employees are going to lose money — large amounts,” she said. “If we don’t stand united, we are going to stand alone. And by united, I am saying all state employees.”

WVEA is recommending contacting representatives and attending informational meetings.

“Each county has to determine what direction they want to go in,” she said. “The purpose of this meeting was informational. It was not a proponent of a work stoppage. We are just wanting to get the message out about what is happening.”

Jeffrey Webb was chosen as president of the Upshur County chapter of the AFT.

Webb said his group was interested in organizing a walk-in that would encourage the community to stand with teachers and service personnel by greeting them at their schools or offices. A date will be announced as plans proceed.

Other ideas discussed were that school employees may hold informational pickets or attend the Statewide Day of Action Rally Saturday, Feb. 17 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the West Virginia State Capitol.

Jackie McDaniels is president of the Upshur County chapter of Professional Educators and recording secretary for the state organization. 

“We are not a union because we don’t believe in a work stoppage, but we have the same goals,” she said. “The main issue seems to be in the legislature and PEIA. Make sure you contact your legislators and governor and voice your concerns.

“We are not going to go as far as a strike at the state level,” she said. “As individuals, if they feel they need to strike then they can do that. Our main focus is going to be fixing PEIA. The premiums have gone up. Plus, the Go365 was going to be required but now the governor is saying it should be voluntary.”

Gov. Jim Justice is proposing a reduction in premiums for all families who have dual state incomes, including teachers, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

“Again, I am aware and understand the challenges and the struggles our families are faced with and I’m going to continue to review and recommend policy changes to get PEIA premiums reduced wherever they can be,” Justice said in a release.

The governor’s plan calls for families with more than one state employee to take their combined state income and divide it in half. That would result in a tier reclassification and premium reduction for those families. There are 5,120 state employees. The PEIA finance board has scheduled public hearings for Feb. 12 in Charleston, Feb. 13 in Morgantown and Feb. 14 in Beckley prior to meeting on Feb. 20 to consider action on the proposal.

In January, the governor also weighed in on PEIA’s Go365, recommending that the program be voluntary with no penalties.

One local resident who is under PEIA insurance as an educator has been working to make people aware of the proposals as they happen.

“The one issue that is a great concern is the one proposing for PEIA premiums to be based on my whole-house income, not just my own as the policy holder,” Cheryl Cain said. “That means my husband’s salary, which is double mine, will raise our monthly insurance payment almost triple what it has been.

“I’ve never really been in a situation where I’ve had to worry about whether I will be able to pay an electric bill, but if I have to have such an amount of money deducted from what I make, what I worry more about is what and how I’m going to feed my kids when I am already having to make conscious decisions about how I spend money without that increase of my premium.”

Upshur County resident Sheila Humphrey has worked for the state government for 18 years.  “I don’t understand why insurance should be related to your salary to determine how much you pay for your insurance,” she said recently. “I most definitely don’t see why it should be related to total household income.”


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