Thursday, March 01, 2018


The West Virginia teachers' strike goes on.Union leadership settled things with the governor and announced the strike was done on Tuesday but they didn't bother to ask the membership. When they did, the members said there is no deal and they didn't return to work. Teachers aren't taking anything for granted.

Promises from the governor of a 5% raise are not enough. They have stayed out on strike now for over a week. Teachers and other support personnel want to know there is a done deal with the State Legislature before they return to work. Many are also concerned about the health benefits issue where only a task force has been set up to deal with the Public Employees Insurance Agency health insurance coverage.

 This is becoming a more amazing story as it enters its second week.

Jacobin interviewed teacher Jay O'Neal.
On Tuesday night, it was announced that the strike was resolved. Can you tell us about how things played out here on the ground?
Many of us were protesting at the capitol on early Tuesday afternoon, and we decided to stay because word spread that NBC News would be filming live at 6 PM. We also knew that the union leadership was meeting at this time with the governor. But nobody knew what would happen. Up until this point, the governor had been obstinate — he kept insisting that nothing could be done to meet our demands.

So while the union leaders were with the governor, we were all out on the steps, waiting for the NBC newscast to start. There was a big crowd. As is the case these days, everybody was on their phones, trying to follow the news to get a sense of what was going on.

Within ten minutes, we found out through the governor’s press conference that a deal had been reached. Teachers and school staff would get a 5 percent pay raise, and 3 percent for all state employees. The governor also said that a task force would be set up to figure out how to improve PEIA, our statewide health insurance plan for public sector workers.

Fifteen minutes after the press conference, union leaders came out and addressed the crowd. The basic problem was that they presented this deal as a victory. They told us we’d be out on strike one more day, then return to school on Thursday.

People were up in arms, really frustrated. Of course, a 5 percent raise is great, but what we’ve been really fighting for in this struggle is PEIA. This has been a huge issue, causing problems for years. They’ve been cutting our health insurance over and over, making it really expensive to survive.

So when it was announced that all we got on PEIA was a task force, people were upset. Teachers in the crowd started interrupting and yelling at our leaders: “We’re not going back in for that!” Everyone started chanting, “We are the union bosses! We are the union bosses!” and “Back to the table! Back to the table!”

Strikers now have a sense of our power, and we don’t want to back down. We weren’t satisfied with the deal. Again, this is mainly because of the health insurance. People are nervous and rightly cynical that the state government has any actual intention to fix this. A lot of teachers are now awakening to what’s happening at our statehouse.We need to see real movement, real solutions, for PEIA. We need a new revenue source. A lot of us have been saying that the solution is a severance tax on natural gas. This would only tax the big out-of-state corporations, not ordinary West Virginians.

Another teacher is quoted in the  Charleston Gazette Mail. His view is a little different:
Workers interviewed Thursday had different ideas of what would persuade them to return (to work).

Nick Watts, a teacher at Kanawha County's Sissonville High, said of the idea to turn HB4145 (the 5% salary increase bill) into a PEIA funding bill that "It sounds like there's a lot more risk involved for us in that situation than just giving a raise"

Watts said the raise would seemingly be more guaranteed to continue to be funded, and said diverting that money to a PEIA fund next fiscal year could mean that same amount of money won't be allocated there in future years, and could mean money might be recalled from the fund.

"What's the guarantee that that money actually finds its way into the PEIA problem?" Watts asked. "That's a question I would like to see answered."

He said that "with the raise, it's there and we know it's there, and it's a guarantee now until it's written out of the (state) code.A one-time $58 million into the PEIA trust fund, if there’s no guarantee that that’s going to be something that’s continual, then I don’t see that as a fix for PEIA.”

Watts said he defines “fix for PEIA” as a long-term, dedicated funding source that keeps any benefit cuts or cost increases that do occur manageable into the future.
He did say he’d be in favor of returning to work tomorrow if the bill passed as the House passed it, saying “to me personally, this would be a show of good faith” -- though he said he’d stand with the local American Federation of Teachers union branch he’s a member of if it decided to continue striking.
While Watts was talking to a reporter, the crowd outside the Senate chamber was chanting “We’re not leaving."
This is so inspiring to see how workers really do have power. On the other hand, it is kind of frustrating because teachers in NY give every excuse in the book on why we can't pull off anything remotely like a job action. We would do much better if we organized for a real fight.


Anonymous said...

New York city teachers need to strike.

Anonymous said...

Oh Hell yes! A teachers union that is willing to strike and will not listen to it's head honchoes in the union. This might be the wave of the future. Screw all those Unity hacks here in NYC that don't have our backs. If we can't agree on a good contract, it is time to go to the streets!

Anonymous said...

not a strike. Anew union leader

James Eterno said...

In WV the rank and file are in charge. They tell the leaders the direction to take things.

Anonymous said...

Only a strike will demonstrate the courage the rank and file needs to promote healthy change.

Anonymous said...

Everyone started chanting, "We are the Union bosses. We are the Union bosses." It's not Mulgrew folks. It's us. Take control that is rightfully ours.

Pogue said...

Interesting read...

Anonymous said...

Hell yes, we strike. De Blasio already tipped his hand with the Carvahlo pick. He tried to sneak in a test based commission pay system in the middle of the night during our contract year. It’s time we up our demands. We want a restoration of our pension to at least Tier 2 levels, an elimination of test based evaluations, full raises, and the same paid maternity that all state workers get (with leave replacements that end the current system of coerced overtime). We also want a restoration of our health benefits to eliminate the 200% increase in copays for ER visits he instituted. How many teachers died because they were afraid to go to the ER for chest pains? A dead teacher is cheaper to insure than a live one, but, that’s a disgusting way to save a buck. Forget this mayor. He’s term limited out and he thinks Eva Moskowitz will gin up donors for the next stage in his life. He’s set us up to get screwed, and we need to be ready to walk. Remember, he settled our last retro contract in Hail Mary pass to extend expiration beyond his re-election. Now we are seeing exactly why he did that. Add to that the fact that he has preserved test based evals long after the RttT.

No strike was ever called by the union boss. Shankar had to be pushed into it twice by the Rank and File. When Sandra Feldman tried to sell us a crappy contract, we initiated a strike vote, and got a better contract.

I know someone will bring up the ‘75 strike. But, all others led to gains while ‘75 was meant to stop the bleeding in a fiscal crisis. The City is now flush with a big surplus and a booming stock market. If we let ourselves get hosed now, we are done. There is no end. I know some normally conservative Rank and File who are ready to fight back. They hate de Blasio, they’re emboldened by West Virginia (I’m shocked by who amongst my colleagues have been following the story there), and they’ve had enough. We need to start taking to each other about striking. I’m hearing people talk about it, and I say we make them feel even more comfortable saying it out loud.

James Eterno said...

12:14, I mostly agree with you except I think Shanker did call for 1967 and 68 strikes and we voted down lousy contract offer in 1995 but never voted to strike. 1960, 1962 and 1975 UFT strikes came from ground. Shanker was not yet president but spoke against going out in 62.

Wish you were not anonymous. Email us please.

Anonymous said...

United we must stand to change evaluation systems, discrimination, harassment, a true pay raise, bringing back seniority, eliminate the ATR status, centralized budgets, etc. etc. etc. Would support a strike and together we can be unstoppable.

Anonymous said...

Just saw a statewide strike planned in Oklahoma now, too. This is a full scale rebellion. Enough with the sellouts! They thought they had us on the ropes because they had our union Presidents in their pockets. But, it’s . about. to. go. down. And, it’s coming from the Rank and File. You’re next, de Blasio. We saw what you tried to do with Carvalho. You took a big swing at us with a sucker punch and you missed. That was a dirty, dirty thing to do. Now it’s our turn, you lousy weasel. Commission based pay my ass.