West Virginia governor announces deal to end teachers’ strike

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s governor said Tuesday that teachers and educators will get a 5 percent pay raise, and that striking teachers will return to work on Thursday.


West Virginia governor announces deal with teachers unions, end of strike
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The deal came on the fourth day of a strike by West Virginia teachers, as thousands of people again descended on the state Capitol to protest poor wages.

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“My commitment to education has been consistent from day one,” Gov. Jim Justice said on Twitter. He said that all other state employees would get a 3 percent raise this year.

My commitment to education has been consistent from day one. We’re giving all teachers a 5% raise and all other State employees 3% this year.

— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) February 27, 2018

A teachers’ group said on Facebook that “Schools are called off on Wednesday for a cooling off period and will resume on Thursday.”

On Tuesday a large crowd outside the state Senate chamber loudly chanted slogans — including “United we stand!” and “Where is justice?” — and waved homemade posters as a walkout that began last Thursday escalated.

“We are fed up. Enough is enough,” said Jamie Heflin, 38, a single mother who teaches at Lenore K-8 School in Williamson. “We’re tired of the disrespect.”

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W.Va. union president on why teachers are striking: 'We're 48th in the nation in pay'
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The four-day strike had left more than a quarter of a million students out of class in the 55 counties across the state, rattling some officials.

“Work stoppages by public employees are not lawful in West Virginia and will have a negative impact on student instruction and classroom time,” West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine said in a statement last week.

“I encourage our educators to advocate for the benefits they deserve, but to seek courses of action that have the least possible disruption for our students.”

In 2016, the average salary for West Virginia teachers ranked 48th in the nation, according to data compiled by the National Education Association. The organizers of the protests have said many teachers are forced to take second jobs just to make ends meet.

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“We can’t be doing our jobs for less and less and less money,” said Carmen Soltesz, 37, a middle school social studies teacher in Williamson who has been on the job for a decade.


John and Kerry Guerini of Fayetteville, West Virginia, hold signs at a rally at the state Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia on Feb. 26, 2018. John Raby / AP

The strike began a day after Gov. Jim Justice signed legislation giving teachers and some other state employees a 4 percent raise over three years. They would receive a 2 percent raise starting in July, followed by a 1 percent increase in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, according to a news release.

That legislation has been sharply criticized by teachers’ unions and their members, who say the pay increases are too stingy. The raises, they say, would not cover cost-of-living spikes and the rising cost of health care.

“The proposed raise … doesn’t even keep us up with other states,” said Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association.”

A spokesman for Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday afternoon.

Amid the strike, food banks have helped provide lunches to students who rely on school meals, according to local reports. And despite any inconveniences, Lee insisted the teachers had “community support.”

“You see families dropping off water, food, pizzas,” Lee said. “It’s like that all over the state.”

Ron Allen reported from Charleston, and Daniel Arkin from New York.

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