Former State Superindentent Henry Marockie of Wheeling Recalls Brokering Deal to End 1990 Strike

WHEELING — In 1990, an 11-day teacher strike in West Virginia ended on a promise and a pay raise.

Henry Marockie of Wheeling was the state schools superintendent who worked with legislative leadership and leaders from the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers to broker the deal that brought teachers and school service personnel back into the classrooms. Teachers that year went on strike on March 7, and the strike ended March 17.

Marockie, now retired, said he worked on a plan to get teachers back to work for six days before then-Gov. Gaston Caperton approached him.

He remembers the words Caperton said to him six days into the strike.

“He told me as state superintendent of schools, the law says I was responsible for public schools, not the heads of the unions. Period. He said, ‘I’m turning it over to you,'” Marockie recalled, meaning Caperton gave him the authority to serve as the state’s representative in ending the strike.

The 1990 strike came after Caperton announced there were no raises for education personnel in that year’s state budget. When teachers threatened to strike, Caperton developed a plan to give educators a 5 percent pay increase, as well as money for benefits and school improvement programs, but only if they did not strike. His plan was to impose a new tax on coal to finance the pay increases and benefits.

However, the teachers rejected the offer and the strike followed.

Marockie said he knew that to settle the strike, he had to bring everyone to the table to work on a short-term resolution as well as address long-term goals.

“I started working with the union presidents, acknowledging that we had to pay our teachers more. They had no increases in five years and that’s what brought on the strike,” he said. “The main thing is that we had the governor with us. … Don’t let anyone fool you — the person who really has the money is the governor.”

After hours of talks and heated words, all those in the meetings agreed to a 4 percent pay increase that would equal between $500 and $1,500 per year.

In 1990, the average yearly salary for a Mountain State teacher was $21,904 — 49th in the nation for teachers’ wages, Marockie said. The average teacher earned $45,000 in 2016, ranking it 48th nationally for teachers’ wages.

“It’s a tough call to do what you have to do to come up with the money. Cuts were done and a promise was made to address the long-term needs of education,” Marockie added of how the 1990 strike was ended.

During the 1990 strike, West Virginia Attorney General Roger Tompkins warned teachers they could be suspended for one year, dismissed or charged with a misdemeanor for walking off the job.