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West Virginia House OKs Bill Penalizing Teacher Strikes

Photo courtesy WV Legislative Photography Del. Ed Evans, D-McDowell, voices his opinion Tuesday against a bill that makes clear that strikes and work stoppages by public employees are illegal.

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia House of Delegates joined with their state senate colleagues Tuesday in passing a bill making it clear that strikes and work stoppages by public employees are illegal.

Senate Bill 11, declaring a work stoppage or strike by public employees to be unlawful, passed the House 53-46, with several Republicans joining Democratic lawmakers in opposing the bill.

According to the roll call, 23 out of the 76 Republicans who voted on the bill voted against it, joining the 23 Democrats who voted in a solid block against the bill.

SB 11 takes a previous West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decision from 1990 declaring that public employee strikes and work stoppages unlawful and codifies that decision directly into state code.

Any county board of education employee would be considered a participant in a work stoppage or strike if they don’t report to work as required. The bill would allow county school boards to consider any such participation grounds for dismissal, allows county boards to withhold pay for days missed by participating county school employees, and prohibits county boards from using accrued instructional time or alternative methods of instruction to make up missed days.

“This is just stating the obvious, it’s just putting in these extra things,” said House Education Committee Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer. “I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”

An amendment offered last Thursday by Del. Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, removed language from the bill requiring extracurricular activities to be canceled on days when work stoppages and strikes occur. Extracurricular activity decisions would remain with county boards and the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.

Del. Ed Evans, D-McDowell, is a retired teacher. He said the bill will do absolutely nothing to stop a future strike or work stoppage, such as the teacher and school service personnel work stoppages in 2018 and 2019.

“Let’s just call this what it is, a threat … That’s what this bill is to the teachers and the public employees,” Evans said. “Let’s quit threatening our teachers, let’s do something for them.”

Del. Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, walked in the 2018 work stoppage before running for office. Now in his second term, Thompson also said the bill is redundant since work stoppages are already illegal.

“This is just a purely retaliatory and punitive bill meant to punish our teachers and our service personnel in this state for doing what’s right and standing up for what’s right,” Thompson said.

Ellington said the bill does not prevent public workers from protesting against the state, but only prevents them from walking off the job.

“This has nothing to do with the right to assemble peaceably or to redress government about their grievances or First Amendment rights,” Ellington said. “This doesn’t stop that. It just says you’re not going to do it during your regular work time. You can’t do that.”

The bill now heads back to the Senate to approve the amended changes to the bill before heading to Gov. Jim Justice to approve or veto.

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