As the West Virginia House of Delegates considers the state Senate’s education omnibus bill, leaders from the state’s three education unions met in Flatwoods on Saturday, where they announced, after tallying votes from all 55 counties, that teachers and school employees “overwhelmingly” authorized an unspecified, statewide work action sometime in the future, should they deem it appropriate.
The announcement came almost exactly one year after teachers in 2018 voted to authorize a statewide strike as they fought for pay raises and a permanent fix to the state’s Public Employees Insurance Agency.
“It feels like deja vu in some way,” said Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia arm of the American Federation of Teachers. “We would like a little reprieve here — we’re tired of being attacked the way we have been by [the Legislature].”
Senate Bill 451 is still moving through the Legislature, and while the House Education Committee recommended significant changes for some of the bill’s most contentious components — like nixing education saving accounts, removing anti-strike provisions and limiting the number of charter schools that would be allowed in the state, to name a few — there is no guarantee that the bill will not change again or revert back to its introduced version, which all three education unions are adamantly against.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said the authorization gives the state’s teachers and school employees leverage to act, in whatever way they see fit, at any time they see fit.
There was no indication of how individual counties voted or the margin of those for and against the authorization, other than that totals were “overwhelmingly in support.”
Work action, Albert said, can mean anything from picketing at schools to work stoppages. No information was provided as to what, specifically, could push educators to utilize a work action.
“I’m an old basketball coach; I don’t give away my game plan,” Lee said.
Albert said state union leaders are keeping in constant contact with their county representatives as the bill evolves, and if they see anything that would negatively affect school workers or students, they will “act accordingly.”
“This is what I call a fluid bill — changes are still being made and we can’t be sure what we’ll end up with,” Albert said. “We’re listening to our members every single day, and we’re focusing on what will be good not only for them, but most importantly for our students and their families.”
On Monday, two public comment periods will be hosted at the state Capitol, in Charleston, to allow teachers, parents, employees and anyone else their first opportunity to share concerns about the bill with legislators.
Tina Adams, president of the Wyoming County chapter of the WVEA and an English teacher at Baileysville Elementary and Middle School, said Wyoming County representatives from the AFT, the WVEA and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association will be traveling to Charleston for the hearings.
“We didn’t really want to be here again, but we need to be,” Adams said. “It’s for our students — everything we do is for our students.”
Leaders from all three unions assured that, were there to be another statewide strike, families would be given notice and teachers and employees would ensure students are fed, safe and taken care of.
“They will always be our number one priority, and we will do whatever we need to in order to make sure they are OK,” said Joe White, president of WVSSPA.
SB 451 advanced out of House Education on Friday and on to the House Finance Committee, where it could see more changes. From there, the full House can either reject the amended version in full, meaning it will revert back to the Senate’s original bill, or alter it more.
If the House advances a bill different than the Senate’s version, the two chambers will have to reconcile and settle on a single version of the bill to send on to the governor.