Governor Jim Justice announced on Tuesday night that he’d reached an agreement to end the walkout on Thursday. The work stoppage had shuttered schools across the state, as I reported yesterday. NPR has the latest developments:
Justice announced a 3 percent pay increase for all state employees this year, with an additional 2 percent hike for those who work in education, including teachers and service personnel. However, it remains unknown whether leaders of the House and Senate will go along with the deal.
But teachers told me on Wednesday morning that they have reservations about the deal. Sandy Adams Shaw, a public high school teacher, said, “I have mixed feelings. I don’t trust our governor or our legislature, but I do trust our union leaders and I know they are getting counsel from national leadership.”
She added, “If legislators don’t keep the bargain then we walk out again. There are many more issues up for negotiation than the pay raise. I hope they haven’t forgotten that!”
“I am relieved to go back to work, I’ve really missed being there and doing my job and I’ve really missed the kids,” said Mahaley Beaty. “But to put it bluntly, I am disappointed that this is the supposed solution. In my opinion, Gov. Justice just wants teachers to go back to work and is willing to say all sorts of things to make that happen. Saying is not the same as doing. He doesn’t like the eyes of the nation on us.”
Furthermore, there is no long-term agreement yet on the state’s Public Employees Insurance Agency, which is meant to provide all public employees with affordable health insurance. “I understand that the PEIA insurance issue is not something that can be solved in the few days remaining in session, but I question why this legislative body did not do more to seek a permanent solution,” Ashlea Bassham, who teaches at Chapmanville Regional High School, said.
At a local town hall, Justice did not do much to inspire confidence, Beaty added: “He waffled back and forth between saying that there was no money and we were lucky to get to 2 percent and saying that PEIA is broken and that there is no fix, to saying that PEIA is a great deal when asked about opening the insurance up to other companies and across state lines.”
State workers, who also suffer from low pay and from PEIA’s shortcomings, aren’t mollified either:
Several teachers said they’re on the way to Charleston for further protests, and the decision to walk out on Friday will depend largely on Wednesday’s developments.