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Another Year, Another Teacher Strike in West Virginia

Photo by Steven Allen Adams Representatives from West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, the West Virginia Education Association, and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association announce a statewide strike for Tuesday.

CHARLESTON — The heads of the three unions representing West Virginia teachers and school service personnel announced a statewide strike will begin today.

Representatives from the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association made the announcement during a press conference Monday in front of the state Senate chambers. The three unions said their members will strike today and for as long as needed to send a message to lawmakers that the version of Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus, considered by the Senate Monday is unacceptable.

“We have worked patiently,” said AFT-WV President Fred Albert. “We are taking action. We are left with no other choice … we are calling a statewide strike. We are left no other choice — our voice has been shut out.”

“The concerns that we had last year have not been addressed to this point,” WVEA President Dale Lee said. “(The senators) were so intent of taking care of the outside interests they forgot the interests of our own people.”

“Don’t start those buses tomorrow,” WVSSPA Executive Director Joe White said.

Both the Senate and the House previously passed different versions of SB 451. Union leaders now believe there are enough votes in the House of Delegates to pass SB 451 with the updates from the Senate Monday, which include a statewide charter school program with a seven-school maximum and a downgraded education savings account program with 1,000 first-come first-serve accounts for parents of special needs students and victims of bullying.

The Associated Press has reported that the teachers’ unions view SB 451 as lacking their input and as retaliation for a walkout last year. That nine-day strike ended with teachers receiving a 5 percent pay raise. The current legislation calls for similar raises.

The 2018 walkout launched the national “Red4Ed” movement that included strikes in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Washington state, and more recently, Los Angeles and Denver. Teachers in Oakland, California, have authorized a strike starting Thursday.

Now the movement has come full circle.

“We are not taking this step lightly,” Albert said. “We feel like we have no other choice than to send a message that we are following this hour-by-hour and today it changed. They moved it through very rapidly today. No, we have waited as long as our members have been patient to wait.”

It’s unclear how long a strike might last, and it’s also unclear how much member support there is support for a strike in all 55 counties. Unions never released the county vote totals that gave state leaders the authority to call a strike. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Kanawha County Schools had planned to stay open during a strike. Lee said teachers understand here could be schools that decide to stay open and that leaders would evaluate those situations when they occur.

As of 9 p.m. Monday, though, the West Virginia Department of Education website indicated that schools in all 55 counties would be closed today.

“Our members know what to expect,” Lee said. “Our members are ready to stand up for their profession. They’re ready to stand up for the kids of West Virginia.”

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