‘We Won’: West Virginia teacher strike ends on Day 9

Photo: Tamar Auber

West Virginia Senate Republicans have finally agreed to a 5 percent pay raise, marking the end of a 9-day teacher strike.

On Tuesday, West Virginia governor Jim Justice announced that a deal had been struck to finally end the 9-day teacher strike.

The announcement comes one week after Justice last announced a deal promising a 5 percent pay raise and the end of the teachers’ strike.

Yet thanks to Republicans’ repeated legislative stall tactics, the strike-ending pay raise for teachers and public employees failed to go through, and classrooms remained closed across the state for another week.

Screenshot/WV Department of Education School Closure Map for Mar. 6, 2018.

West Virginia House Democrats called the ordeal, which kept kids from school for nearly two weeks, “legislative malpractice at worst, and legislative sleight of hand at best.”

State Democratic leaders also said the answer was always simple from the beginning: the GOP must stop obstructing and do the “right thing.”

“The Senate Republicans, who have been holding up the process, have a choice: do the right thing or continue to be the cause of a prolonged teachers’ strike/walkout that punishes our students,” West Virginia House Minority Leader Tim Miley said in a statement when it became evident there would be no resolution Monday night.

The state’s Republican governor agreed.

“This wrangling needs to stop right now,” Justice scolded on Saturday after a day full of legislative misfires, mistakes and frustration resulted in no resolution. “For crying out loud, we are putting our children at risk.”

As of late Monday, frustration was running high among both lawmakers and union leaders.

Speaking to his members on Monday evening, West Virginia Educational Association head Dale Lee noted that only 20 legislators out of 134 actually opposed the pay raise, and said the whole thing had devolved into “petty politics and ego.”

“One group didn’t get their way and perhaps their feelings were hurt and now they are obstructing the legislative process,” Lee said. “While they are throwing their temper tantrums our students and our state suffers.”

West Virginia Senate Democrats took it one step further, calling out state Senators Ryan Ferns and Craig Blair specifically by name for orchestrating the holdout that lasted until Tuesday morning.

During the committee meeting on Monday evening, both Blair and Ferns were instrumental in holding up the proceedings, even though the majority of committee members wanted to take it to a vote.

“The hard-headed, prideful gang of 20 Senate Republicans are keeping lives in turmoil,” the West Virginia Senate Democrats said in a statement Tuesday morning. “This could have been over last Friday.”

It took until Tuesday morning for Senate Republicans to finally relent and agree to a deal, which included the 5 percent pay raise for all state employees.

While legislative hurdles still remain before the pay raise ultimately lands on Justice’s desk, it is expected that teachers and students will be back in the classroom by Wednesday, or at the latest Thursday.

The WVEA celebrated the news with a simple Facebook post: “We won!”