Teacher strike ends with 5 percent raise for all state employees


Governor Jim Justice signed House Bill 4145 into law on Tuesday afternoon, not only giving raises to teachers in West Virginia, but all public employees.

West Virginia's House and Senate passed the deal Tuesday.

West Virginia teachers began the statewide strike on February 22 - the first in nearly 30 years - after Gov. Justice signed a 2 percent salary increase for teachers for the next fiscal year, and a 1 percent increase for the following two fiscal years.

"It's an honor to spread that across the county", said Kara Brown, a Mullens Elementary School teacher, of the movement that inspired teachers in Oklahoma to strike for higher pay and better benefits. Currently, the plan has been frozen from further changes for 16 months.

That case pits Mark Janus, an employee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, the union that represents Janus and some 40,000 other state workers.

Justice had announced a similar deal a week ago, and union leaders accepted the proposal. West Virginia teachers are among the country's most poorly paid, with teacher salaries ranked at 48th in the nation.

Though now limited to West Virginia, the strike has had repercussions outside the state as teachers in Oklahoma say they, too, have reached their breaking point and are considering walking off the job next month.

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As NPR's Amy Held noted Sunday, GOP lawmakers in the state Senate had defied their fellow party members in the governor's mansion and the House - who both agreed to a 5 percent raise - and insisted on 4 percent raise instead. "All the focus should have always been on fairness and getting the kids back in school", the governor said in a tweet.

Still, West Virginia teachers have shown that organized workers can still have clout in the inevitable post-Janus America if their cause is just and their resolution strong.

Republican State Senator Craig Blair said that the pay raise would come at the expense of Medicaid recipients.

In an impressive show of force and solidarity, they effectively staged a strike that includes three unions and all 55 countywide school districts in the state.

The West Virginia Education Association celebrated the announcement, posting on its Facebook page, writing: "WE WON!".

Missed school days will be made up, either at the end of the school year or by shortening spring break, depending on decisions by individual counties. It was the first teachers' strike in West Virginia since 1990. The settlement came on the ninth day of a crippling strike that idled hundreds of thousands of students, forced parents to scramble for child care and cast a spotlight on government dysfunction in one of the poorest states in the country. The Senate said there was only room for four percent, delaying the vote. Details were not disclosed publicly. From what I have gathered from talking with teachers on the ground is that they are in such joy and ecstasy.

Senate leaders, however, announced support for the latest plan Tuesday, promising to find money in the budget to fund all the pay hikes.