Protests Persisting Outside W.Va. Capitol in Charleston

Photo provided Teachers and service personnel from throughout West Virginia resumed protests at the state Capitol in Charleston this morning, the fifth day of a statewide work stoppage to protest low pay and benefits issues with the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

CHARLESTON — Teachers and service personnel throughout West Virginia will return to work Thursday, but protests continued today despite the governor’s promise of higher pay and a task force to review the public employees insurance program.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jim Justice announced he’d reached an agreement with teachers and service personnel groups to give teachers a 5 percent pay increase this year, as well as a 3 percent increase for all public employees, and said the state’s Public Employees Insurance Agency, or PEIA, will be reviewed.

Randy Halsey, a member of West Virginia American Federation of Teachers and a teacher at Midland Trail High School in Fayette County Schools, said hundreds, perhaps thousands, of teachers and service personnel remained in Charleston today, demanding action by lawmakers on PEIA.

“The whole reason for starting this in the beginning was PEIA,” he said. “We appreciate the 5 percent, but that wasn’t our purpose. Our purpose was insurance, and we still need to see action on that.”

Halsey said while the promise of a higher raise is nice, it hasn’t happened yet. Halsey said leadership for both the House and Senate have only said they will consider Justice’s plan, but many educators remain skeptical.

Halsey also said public comments by legislative leaders as well as numerous bills introduced this session on topics like seniority and paycheck deduction have created an antagonistic atmosphere.

“A lot of us are very mistrusting of our government,” he said. “It seems like every bill this session has been an attack on public education.”

“I think that there is a lot of unrest because there are still so many unknowns,” said Jessica Robinson, a member of AFT and a teacher at Parkersburg South High School in Wood County.

“The feeling is that this can be a move in the right direction if there is legitimate follow through.”

“Some do not have faith that will happen,” she said. “We will wait and see.”

Halsey said while the number of teachers and service personnel in Charleston is down today, primarily because of the need to prep buildings for the reopening of schools, there still are hundreds of teachers filling both sides of the Legislature and the galleries of both the state House and the Senate.

“More people are arriving as we speak,” he said. “I’m pretty impressed. A lot of the people who have been here every day for the past week are back again today.”

In a statement issued this morning, AFT President Randi Weingarten praised Justice’s proposal, but said it was just a beginning.

“Last night’s proposal is a starting point in terms of treating West Virginia’s teachers and school service personnel with the respect and dignity they deserve,” she said. “It provides a new pathway forward on health care, with a short-term freeze in premiums and a long-term commitment to get it right for public employees, educators and school service personnel.”

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