On Feb. 22, 2018, all schools in West Virginia closed their doors, and students across the state went nine days without education. Almost a year later, teachers’ needs hadn’t been met and tensions were rising. On Feb. 18, the teachers’ union leaders announced that a strike would begin the next day. A fear of another strike had become reality. Let’s refresh ourselves on what exactly caused last year’s historical event to happen.
Teachers started the strike because of low pay and high health care costs. The average annual pay for teachers in West Virginia is $45,240, ranking the state 48th in salary. Pay raises would not be able to keep up with the ever-growing cost of health care in the near future.
The strike started when a pay raise was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jim Justice on Feb. 21.
“We certainly recognize teachers are underpaid and this is a step in the right direction to addressing their pay issue,” said Justice as he signed, unaware of the reality of how many steps would follow.
The raise planned for a 2 percent increase in 2019, following with a 1 percent increase in 2020 and 2021. Unfortunately, this would not keep up with inflation and was not enough for West Virginia teachers, as would be evident in the following two weeks.
The night before the school closings, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey made a threat against all teachers of the state. He made a statement saying that a strike, “of any length on any ground is illegal,” and would be enforced by his office, who would aid any districts also enforcing the state ban on employee strikes. The next day, schools in all 55 counties closed, affecting more than 250,000 students. More than 5,000 teachers protested at the state Capitol building, and continued to for 13 days, never giving up for what they stood for.
Finally, on March 7, 2018, the strike was over. Teachers returned to their classrooms after the West Virginia Senate agreed to the House’s position after many conference committee negotiations. A 5 percent raise was agreed upon, but did not promise to control rising health care costs. Since then, this event has been an inspiration to teacher strikes in Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, California, and many smaller events.