WVEA, AFT-WV granted authorization, but not ready to use it yet

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FLATWOODS, W.Va. — The occasional muffled cheer preceded the eventual final decision: state-level unions representing teachers and service personnel across West Virginia now have the authority to take a statewide action.

“There was overwhelming support across the state to authorize some type of work action for the leadership to be able to call,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.

The precise action that was decided by representatives from 55 counties, including the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia and the WVEA, is expected to crystallize this week. WVEA President Dale Lee said there’s momentum for action, but he said there would be no immediate actions taken while the legislative process remained ongoing.

“That doesn’t mean we’re calling something on Monday,” he said. “It gives us the authorization. The legislative process is still early. It’s time to look at the legislation that’s moving, give us the opportunity to go in and try to continue to work the process for the best possible deal. But knowing that we have the opportunity, if the need arise, we have the overwhelming support of the state to look at actions we may take.”

Hundreds of representatives from AFT-WV and the WVEA trekked to Flatwoods amid rising tension between school personnel, Governor Jim Justice, and the State Legislature. Terry Sprouse, a bus driver in Lewis County and Vice President of the Lewis County Education Association, said the public needs to remember that teachers aren’t the only piece of this puzzle.

“It’s not just about teachers,” he said. “It’s about all state employees affected with the PEIA, salary increases, and all this other stuff. We put a name on it for teachers, but it’s teachers, service (personnel), all state employees that are being affected all across the state of West Virginia.”

Concern over stagnant salaries, less valuable benefits packages, and a perception that those running the state are operating an anti-education agenda has prompted unrest up and down the West Virginia for much of 2018, with demonstrations and temporary school walkouts in three counties in the Southern Coalfields, informational pickets and rallies along North Central West Virginia’s I-79 corridor, and large-scale demonstrations in the Eastern Panhandle.

“It’s coming from everywhere,” said Christine Campbell, AFT-WV President.

Campbell said there’s momentum in a number of other places as well, citing a recent rally in one of West Virginia’s most secluded places — Webster County.

“That’s a rural county, and it’s far out there,” she said. “They don’t have as many employees as a county like Mon County, but they had a really good group of people. It was teachers, it was service personnel, it was parents, it was students who came together and said we need to make public education a priority in West Virginia.”

County by county, those in attendance reported the percentage of their action authorization votes to the full body amid cheers. Those full numbers are not expected to be released until Monday. Dale Lee called it historic.

“It shows the unity of teachers and service professionals across the state,” Lee said. “And the two organizations… the unity of that.”

Monongalia County released their tally earlier this week, with 89 percent of the union choosing to authorize action at the state level.

The meeting comes on the heels of a press conference by Governor Jim Justice on Thursday, where he advocated for staying the course of his proposed 1-1-1-1-1 plan — even as a different pay raise bill works its way through the House of Delegates. Justice’s plan received a unanimous 33-0 vote in the State Senate, even as Democrats attempted to amend the bill to authorize greater pay for public workers.

A joint press conference is scheduled Monday to shed additional light on Sunday’s meeting.

WAJR’s Alex Wiederspiel and Brittany Murray contributed to this story. 

Cabell, Wayne education personnel to take part in one-day work stoppage

Brad McElhinny/MetroNews West Virginia teachers held up signs that said “1 % is not enough!” during a rally at the state Capitol. The reference was to the average pay raise proposed by Gov. Jim Justice.

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Teachers and service personnel in Cabell and Wayne counties will participate in a one-day work stoppage Feb. 16, according to two education organizations.

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association said more than 70 percent of school employees voted for the work stoppage.

Employees from both counties will take part in a closed meeting on Feb. 13 at Spring Valley High School to discuss further action. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

STATE OFFICIALS PULL BACK ON PEIA CHANGES CAUSING LOST INCOME – Change 1% Pay Raise A Little

According to a statement by West Virginia House Speaker Tim Armstead, House leaders, the Republican caucus and Governor Justice are recommending that the Finance Board of the Public Employees Insurance Agency keep the current premium structure for the next fiscal year.

Armstead stated, “This action will provide lawmakers and officials an extra year to provide input and work toward a more equitable plan that best serves our teachers and state employees, as well as the taxpayers.”

The PEIA plan for this next year would have been a significant loss of income for many teachers and state employees.

The Finance Committee of the House of Delegates Wednesday has approved a plan to give pay raises to teachers, school service personnel, and state police officers.

For teachers, the plan would provided a 2 percent pay increase for the coming fiscal year, followed by 1 percent increases for each of the following three years.

Gov. Jim Justice’s original plan called for 1 percent increases each year for the next five.

For state police and school service personnel, the bill would proved a 2 percent raise in the upcoming fiscal year, with a 1 percent increase next year.

WV TEACHERS UP IN ARMS ABOUT 1% ANNUAL PAY RAISE

2-6-2018- WV teachers held rallies around the state over the weekend, seeking support for a pay increase more than 1% annually for the next five years.

Calhoun-Gilmer teachers and other state employees met last week, deciding to follow the lead of state unions regarding walk-outs or a strike.

House Minority Leader and Harrison County Delegate Tim Miley stood among teachers, service personnel and other supporters Saturday in Clarksburg.

Miley called out Governor Jim Justice on ‘untruths and lies’ about teacher pay raises.

Miley said he gets their frustration — not only with teacher pay but also about rising costs of the Public Employees Insurance Agency. “Their benefits are being eroded, and (there’s) no corresponding meaningful increase in pay,” he said. “There will be a $60 million deficit and perpetuity in PEIA if something is not done to permanently fix it.”

Teachers said they felt ignored by the WV Legislature, calling the “1% offer a slap in the face.”

Republicans in the Legislature have said the raise is what they can offer right now as the state emerges from several difficult budget years.

On Friday, the state Senate passed a 1-percent pay increase for each of the next five years for teachers, service personnel and uniformed and administrative State Police. Teachers rallying on Saturday called the amount “a slap in the face.” “(Gov. Jim Justice) had a press conference scheduled (on Friday). He couldn’t bear to face the teachers, and he’s acting like this is a surprise,” Miley said. “Why are we here almost halfway through this session and he’s done nothing about it?” Governor Justice claimed that there were Democrats last year who did not support pay raises for teachers. Miley sad that “was just, simply not true.”

WV teachers are among the lowest paid in the USA, and many have gone to other states for better pay, in addition to there being about 700 teacher positions vacant in the Mountain State.

With acrimony — and teachers watching — Senate advances 1 percent raise

By Phil Kabler Staff writer 

Senate advances 1 percent teacher pay raise

Hundreds of teachers and staffers from schools in Southern West Virginia line the upper rotunda of the state Capitol on Friday morning.

With more of a sense of acrimony than accomplishment, the West Virginia Senate passed 33-0, and sent to the House, Senate Bill 267, which gives teachers five consecutive 1 percent pay raises, while providing back-to-back 1 percent raises for other state employees and school service personnel.

Senate Democrats called the raises inadequate, and even insulting, while Republicans likened them to a “fiscally responsible” down payment for state workers, with the promise of larger increases down the road as the economy improves.

The nearly hour-long debate was intensified by the presence of schoolteachers, most dressed in red, who filled the Senate chamber’s three galleries but remained largely silent during the proceedings.

At several points during the debate, Senate Republicans accused Democrats of grandstanding by advocating for higher pay raises, contending that they missed multiple opportunities to maintain teacher pay, which has dropped to 48th in the United States, while they were the majority party in the years following the 1990 teachers’ strike.

“We all know that’s not enough,” Sen. Sue Cline, R-Wyoming, said of the 1 percent raises. “I’m personally so tired of hearing about how hardhearted I am, how mean I am.”

She added, “I’m just tired of the posturing, and the lying, and the attacking each other.”

Cline made the comments in response to Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, who said of the Senate’s refusal to increase the amount of the raises, “I’m hoping this body will be turned, and our hearts will be unhardened.”

Unger called the 1 percent raises — $432 a year for state employees, $404 a year for teachers, and $202 a year for school service personnel — insulting.

“It’s like going to a restaurant, ordering a large meal, and leaving a penny tip,” he said. “That’s what it is, it’s a slap in face.”

Several senators, however, said the Legislature needs to move cautiously, to be certain the state’s economic recovery is lasting before proposing larger pay increases.

“We have to live within our means, like the households that are paying these taxes,” said Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, citing January revenue collection that he said came up $28 million short of estimates. That revenue report has not yet been released to the public.

“I can’t believe people are insulted by something we’re trying so hard to do,” Blair said.

The passage vote came a day after the Senate rejected two Democratic proposals to sweeten the teacher pay raise, including a proposal to raise the first year’s pay increase for teachers from 1 percent to 3 percent that was rejected by Republicans on a party line 24-12 vote.

Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, called that “political grandstanding.”

“It’s as much as we can do,” he said of the 1 percent raises. “We’d all like to do more, but this is all we have.”

Likewise, Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, said the Senate simply can’t commit to more expensive raises at the moment.

“Everyone on this side of the aisle would have loved to see a 3 percent increase,” he said. “This 1 percent is a compromise. We’d love to give more, but you just can’t.”

Several Democrats, however, said it was a matter of setting priorities, noting that the Senate majority is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would cut state business inventory taxes by $140 million a year.

Sens. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, and Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, called for increases in severance taxes on the booming natural gas industry, to provide revenue for competitive salaries.

“We know we are standing on, right now, the richest grounds in the United States of America, and we know it’s coming,” Ojeda said. “We gave coal away, but we can’t give natural gas away.”

Several senators, including Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said they voted for the bill to keep the pay raise legislation alive but hope to work with the House and the Governor’s Office to increase the amounts.

“This issue is very simple: We can’t put qualified teachers in our classrooms, and retain teachers to educate our children, without having competitive salaries,” he said, adding, “We can dig down and find a way to pay our teachers what they’re worth. We’ve got to step up and do the right thing.”

Technically, the bill provides pay raises only for those employees whose salaries are written into state law: teachers, school service personnel and the West Virginia State Police. Historically, all other state employees are given equivalent pay increases, which are built into the state budget bill.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.