West Virginia lawmakers have agreed a deal to end a nine-day teachers’ walkout over pay and healthcare. The West Virginia Senate had rejected the pay raise that would have ended the state’s biggest teachers’ strike in 30 years.
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Governor Jim Justice tweeted on Tuesday morning that a deal had been reached in a last-minute conference committee, with all state employees to receive a 5 percent salary increase.
We have reached a deal. I stood rock solid on the 5% Teacher pay raise and delivered. Not only this, but my staff and I made additional cuts which will give all State employees 5% as well. All the focus should have always been on fairness and getting the kids back in school.
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) 6 March 2018
The tentative agreement follows several days of impasse between the the West Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate. A conference committee of six lawmakers met on Monday evening but failed to find agreement. Governor Justice, union leaders and the House of Delegates agreed to a 5 percent pay raise for the teachers but the Republican-dominated Senate offered only a 4 percent increase so no deal was struck.
Teachers’ unions announced their victory on Tuesday.
WE WON! 5% for everyone education employees, troopers and state police… announcement between House and Senate. Governor agrees.
— WVEA (@WVEAnews) 6 March 2018
Teachers had assembled inside the state Capitol on Tuesday morning to put pressure on lawmakers to agree a deal.
Monday also saw rallies from teachers.
The scale of the teachers’ strike is near unprecedented in the state. Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, told RT America’s Ed Schultz on Monday that he had “never seen the education community so united.”
West Virginia teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation, while the state’s poverty rate hovers at 17.9 percent. Teachers last received a salary raise in 2014 and many claim they have to work second jobs to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), which provides healthcare to teachers, has been reducing benefits in the face of rising healthcare costs. Teachers were demanding greater state funding for the PEIA to offset this.
“We feel like we’re under attack constantly,” Cody Thompson, a social studies and civics teacher at Elkins High School, told local news outlet WVVA.
“Eventually, whenever you’re pushed into a corner, you’ve got to push back.”
It’s the first statewide teachers’ strike in almost 30 years in West Virginia. Over 270,000 students have been affected, according to the latest enrollment figures from the state Education Department. Many students rely on free breakfasts and lunches from school.
The average starting salary for a teacher in West Virginia is $ 32,435 per year, while the average teacher’s salary is $ 44,701, according to the West Virginia Education Association.
A GoFundMe strike fund for West Virginia teachers has amassed over $ 250,000.
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