West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has allowed a bill declaring public employee strikes “unlawful” and “a ground for termination” to become law.
The legislation (Senate Bill 11) passed both chambers early in the session. Republicans claimed supermajorities in both the House of Delegates and the Senate in November’s elections.
Justice didn’t sign or veto the legislation. SB 11 became law due to a provision in the state Constitution that says bills automatically become law if the governor doesn’t act for a set period of time.
Democrats and school worker unions claimed the bill was retaliatory, but also that it didn’t do anything new.
The state Supreme Court ruled over 30 years ago that “public employees have no right to strike in the absence of express legislation or, at the very least, appropriate statutory provisions for collective bargaining, mediation, and arbitration.”
Public employees still don’t have collective bargaining rights in West Virginia.
The Supreme Court didn’t go into possible consequences for striking in that 1990 ruling, which was made regarding the state’s first widespread, but not statewide, teacher strike.
The first statewide public school worker strikes, involving both teachers and other school workers like bus drivers, didn’t come until 2018 and 2019, during Justice’s first term as governor. The 2018 strike inspired teacher strikes in other states.
Justice was first elected in 2016 as a Democrat. The next year, he announced his switch to the Republican Party during a rally alongside then-President Donald Trump.
His relationship with public school workers and their unions has been off and on since then.
He received credit for helping end the 2018 strike, but he hasn’t yet made good on his pledge in that deal to put forth a long-term funding solution for school employees’ health insurance.
In 2019, Justice threatened to veto Senate Republicans’ omnibus education bill, which fomented that year’s strike, and only signed into law a much-curtailed version of that legislation.
The major school worker unions backed his Democratic opponent in the 2020 election. Justice later said, regarding his successful January push to reopen classrooms amid the pandemic, “the teachers unions ran off and supported my opponent and lost every single county in the state … There’s no point in me talking to the union leaders.”
He has since signed into law a bill (House Bill 2012) allowing charter schools to expand faster in the state than what the 2019 omnibus allowed, and has now allowed the anti-strike bill to take effect.
Delegates passed the bill on a 55-44 vote. Republicans make up 77 of the 100 delegates. Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, was absent.
The Senate passed it 21-12, with Sen. David Stover, R-Wyoming, absent. All Democrats voted against it, as did Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur.