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Teachers and school personnel demonstrate outside the House of Delegates chamber at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. on the second day of a statewide strike by teachers and school personnel on Tuesday, February 20, 2019.

A West Virginia lawmaker has renewed an attempt to punish teachers for striking in a state where work stoppages have occurred in two of the past three years.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, a Jefferson County Republican, introduced a bill Wednesday, the first day of the regular legislative session, that would allow striking teachers to be fired.

Under the bill, county boards of education could instead order the prorated salary or hourly pay of a public employee to be forfeited for each day of their participation in a strike. County superintendents also would be barred from closing schools in anticipation of — or to facilitate — a strike.

While the bill’s prospects of passing are uncertain, the November election produced a supermajority for Republicans in both chambers of the Legislature. Having a two-thirds majority gives the GOP the ability to advance bills without Democrat support.

Rucker’s bill “doesn’t surprise me,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. “I think they can pass anything they want to pass.”

Similar anti-strike provisions were removed from an education bill that passed the Legislature in 2019.

Several states, including West Virginia, already ban teacher strikes, but that does not keep them from occurring. A 1990 state Supreme Court ruling declared a strike that year illegal.

If the current legislation would allow teachers to be fired, “that would be up to a legal challenge,” Lee said. “We haven’t had the right, so to speak, to strike the last two times we’ve had a work action. Our people understand that.

“If things get bad enough, they’re willing to take the risk.”

In 2018, West Virginia teachers and school service personnel went on strike statewide after balking at an initial bill signed by Gov. Jim Justice to bump up their pay 2% in the first year. They also complained about rising health insurance costs.

West Virginia teachers, some of the lowest-paid in the country, had gone without a salary increase for four years.

The nine-day strike ended after the Legislature agreed to 5% raises. The strike also launched the national “Red4Ed” movement, which included strikes in other states.

In 2019, West Virginia teachers went on strike for two days over an education bill that was killed hours after the walkout started. The bill had included a proposal to allow the state’s first charter schools. The Legislature then waited until after the school year concluded to pass the charter schools proposal that was signed by the governor.

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