Teachers ponder strike as lawmakers balk


Teachers ponder strike as lawmakers balk

BUCKHANNON — The results of a vote by school employees statewide on whether they would support a work stoppage had not been made public by The Record Delta’s press deadline Sunday.

County presidents met with state leaders from the American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Education Association in Flatwoods Sunday afternoon.

A vote was taken in all county schools last week to decide which counties would proceed with a work stoppage if the state legislature does not significantly improve a benefits and pay package which currently ranks nearly dead last in the nation.

Upshur County’s president for ATF-W.Va., Jeffrey Webb, said state union leaders Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, and Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia, did not want the vote results released publicly as of Sunday afternoon.

“They are still doing everything they can to work with the legislature,” Webb said. “As far as a work stoppage or strike, that is the last resort. We are unified in moving education forward in West Virginia.

“I can tell you that Upshur County is very much in line with the state leadership of the union. I can also tell you that we were all unified across and the state and we are looking forward to moving forward and doing what is best for the students and the teachers as well. We feel that what is best for the teachers is what is best for the students.”

Upshur County was one of only two counties that did not strike in 1990.

On Thursday evening, an informational meeting with state representatives from three different unions took place in Wesley Chapel on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College.

Brad Hamilton, representing the WVEA, said his organization is focused on issues surrounding seniority, salary increases, PEIA, Go365, charter schools and vouchers.

A new concern also crept up as Senate Bill 335 was introduced to eliminate payroll deductions for union or association dues.

Hamilton said this is an attack on unions that was introduced after teachers went to the state capitol to demand higher pay. The bill’s lead sponsor is Upshur County’s Robert Karnes (R-11th).

“It would change what can come out of our pay,” Hamilton said. “A lot of members pay their union dues out of a payroll deduction so they don’t have to remember. That’s going to force people to find an alternate way to pay and then from there, possibly a loss of membership. The whole reason behind this is so that way they will dissolve the unions.”

On Friday, SB 335 passed the State Senate with a vote of 20-13, with both Karnes and Greg Boso (R-Nicholas) voting in favor. The bill now moves to the House of Delegates.

Karnes and Boso also both voted against a Democrat proposal to give teachers a 3 percent pay raise this year.

West Virginia teachers have said that increases to PEIA mean they’ll actually be making less money this year unless the legislature approves significant raises. They’ve also scoffed at a proposed 1-year freeze to PEIA, saying that just kicks the can down the road in an election year.

Hamilton, who covers nine counties, says teachers are working hard to raise awareness of the issues facing education in West Virginia. The Mountain State has struggled to attract new teachers and has more than 700 vacant teacher openings.

“Some counties are going to be having rallies this weekend, picketing,” Hamilton said. “It’s awareness for the public, passing our informational flyers to the public during sporting events.”

At Thursday’s meeting, Sean Miller, representing the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, said a work stoppage is a last resort.

“We don’t want a strike,” he said. “I want to be very clear that is a last-ditch effort. We need that as a tool.”

Sherri Talkington, president of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said her organization has concerns about several bills, including the SB 335. House Bill 4224 calls for an eight hour work day for service  personnel — who work a 7 ½ hour day now — with no extra pay. House Bill 4226 eliminates competency testing for service jobs.

“What they want to do is go back to family and friends hiring,” she said. “We don’t want that at all.”

Talkington also explained that her organization is taking a separate service personnel vote for their own purposes to be able to show how service employees feel.

“If we can’t get something done, then here are our numbers,” she said. “It doesn’t say we are actually going to do it, but it doesn’t mean we are not.”

On Sunday, Upshur County Indivisible-Votes announced a Public Employees’ Rally would be held in front of the Upshur County Courthouse from 4-6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 16.

All public employees are invited and encouraged to wear purple as a show of unity.

Webb also said there are local educators interested in going to the Statewide Day of Action on Feb. 17 at the state capitol.

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