It’s unclear how the standoff between West Virginia workers and the state senate will end, but if nothing else, this week’s decision to keep striking is a reminder that the rank and file can lead.
“We believe the best course of action at this time is to return to school tomorrow, however, we realize that not everyone will,” said the West Virginia Education Association’s president at a press conference Wednesday evening. Since then, school remains cancelled in all fifty-five counties in West Virginia as striking teachers and school service personnel refuse to return to work.
While national media reported the end of the strike on Tuesday evening when union leaders struck a deal with Governor Jim Justice for a 5 percent pay raise, cracks in the deal started to appear almost as soon as it was announced. The presidents of West Virginia’s two teacher associations announced the deal to school personnel at a nationally televised rally at the capitol. The crowd cheered the news that the deal included a 5 percent pay raise for all teachers and service personnel — and almost immediately began shouting, “what about PEIA?”
The announcement that the deal included a task force to make recommendations to the 2019 legislature on fixing the underfunded Public Employee Insurance Agency was greeted with boos. Union leaders went on to state that schools would be closed Wednesday for a “cooling off” period, but that workers would be back in school on Thursday with union leaders “reserv[ing] the right to call our teachers and service personnel out at a later date if we need to.”
There was no “cooling off” on Wednesday. Rank-and-file teachers and service personnel were upset not just about the deal, which appeared to shortchange a core demand of fixing PEIA, but also about how the deal was presented to them. It looked as if workers, who had all taken votes in their schools to walk out, were not going to be given a vote on whether to walk back in.