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'A Living History Lesson': Teachers Reflect on the Massive West Virginia Strike

March 15, 2018 in Blogs

By Yawana Wolfe, In These Times

Teachers are not backing down.

Charleston, W. Va.—The teachers’ strike in West Virginia ended Tuesday after the Republican-controlled West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates voted to pass a 5 percent pay raise bill for public employees that Republican Gov. Jim Justice later signed into law.

The strike, which began on February 22 and continued for nine days across the state, left nearly 277,000 children out of classrooms with their parents scrambling for babysitters. Meanwhile, more than 20,000 red-shirted teachers took to picket lines across all 55 counties and created a massive presence in Charleston, the state capitol. Many teachers wore red bandannas in commemoration of the Battle of Blair Mountain—the largest labor uprising in U.S. history which took place in West Virginia in 1921.

On Monday, the capitol was briefly shut down due to overcrowding by striking teachers and supporters. By 11 a.m., the capitol, which was built to accommodate 3,700, had amassed over 5,000, with the line snaking into the building stretching for at least half a mile.

Teachers were on strike demanding a pay raise and a fix for the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) which provides healthcare coverage for state workers. Rising premiums and benefit cuts in recent years have led to frustration for many public employees, and West Virginia teachers rank among the lowest paid in the nation.

During the talks with Senate leadership and Gov. Justice, strikers rallied outside the Senate and House chambers chanting, “55 United” and “You work for us, we’ll work for you!”

After days of negotiations, with some strikers traveling hours to get to the capitol each day, many teachers were ecstatic when the vote of 34-0 in the Senate was announced. Chants of “55 United” gave way to hand holding and the singing of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads.” Tears were shed and a feeling of pride and accomplishment settled over the crowd.

Brandon Tinney, a union leader with the American Federation of Teachers said he was happy with the progress the strikers made. “We have been 48th in pay for the past several years so any raise in pay is helpful,” he said. “Five percent won’t get …read more


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