Don’t Encourage Teacher Strike

Most public school officials and administrators probably support demands from many teachers for higher pay and lower health insurance costs. But the place to do that is in the state Capitol in Charleston — not on the picket line.

Many members of the state’s two teachers’ unions have been considering a strike to pressure the Legislature and Gov. Jim Justice for better pay and more control over Public Employees Health Insurance premiums. In a few counties, one-day walkouts have occurred already.

It is to be hoped lawmakers, the governor and the unions can come together on the issue. It appears that may be happening: Members of the House of Delegates have approved 2 percent pay raises for state employees, twice what the governor had sought. In addition, Justice and legislators are working with the PEIA to cancel premium increases that had been scheduled for this year.

Real, significant progress is being made.

In many counties, teachers have voted on whether to authorize union leaders to call a strike. The changed situation may well mean some educators do not have the same opinions on a walkout that they did before saying “yes” or “no” to authorizing one.

The issue came up in an Ohio County Board of Education meeting Thursday. Ohio County Education Association President Elaine Sedilko said she had spoken about a potential walkout with school Superintendent Kim Miller.

During that conversation, Miller told her that in the event of a one-day walkout by teachers, she would consider canceling school for the day.

Sedilko noted that a cancellation would prevent teachers from having a “dock day” charged to them for not showing up for work. Should “dock days” be recorded, Ohio County teachers could find their annual attendance incentive bonus of $1,350 imperiled.

Miller later told our reporter that her first priority is students, not supporting teachers in a strike.

Striking employees in the private sector expect that if they choose not to go to work on a given day, they will not be paid for that day. It should be the same with government employees.

School superintendents given short notice of walkouts may have no choice but to cancel classes for the day. But teachers who decide to strike should not be paid for the days they are absent, unless a mechanism such as personal leave days is employed.

Helping them avoid any financial penalty for staying away from work voluntarily has the effect of encouraging them to strike. That is the very last thing any school official or administrator should want to do.