West Virginia’s governor and state legislators have struck a tentative deal with union leaders that could end the massive teacher strike that has closed schools across the state for nine weekdays.
Gov. Jim Justice (R) announced early Tuesday that teachers, school personnel and state employees would all receive a 5-percent raise this year. Meanwhile, health care costs would be temporarily frozen as the state develops a task force to deal with rising premiums. Workers were demanding the state curb insurance costs and give them significant raises after years of stagnant pay.
But the announcement should not be taken as a guaranteed resolution to the work stoppage just yet. Justice proclaimed last week to have reached a deal to end it, only to see rank-and-file workers continue the strike as his pay proposal fell apart in the state Senate. The earlier deal would have provided a smaller raise for state workers than the one detailed on Tuesday.
Lawmwakers said they hoped to pass bills guaranteeing the raises by the end of the day, so that schools could reopen on Wednesday. As the events last week showed, workers are unlikely to return to work until legislation has passed.
Workers inside the capitol were chanting “Today! Today!” as legislators worked in the chamber.
The strike was the first of its kind in West Virginia in nearly 30 years. Teachers and school personnel stayed off the job in all 55 counties, flooding the capitol in Charleston each day to protest, often with a line of workers stretching down the street waiting to enter. Workers also set up rallies at schools across the state.
Public-sector workers in West Virginia don’t have a formal process for collective bargaining. The wage scale is determined by the state, and lawmakers pass raises through the legislature.
West Virginia teachers are among the lowest paid in the country, ranking 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. The state’s teachers have not seen an across-the-board pay hike since 2014. Meanwhile, health insurance costs have risen, driving down their take-home pay.
This is a developing story and will be updated.