Julia Lucas, Staff Writer
Feb. 22 was an average school day for all students and teachers in 49 of the 50 states. Students prepared for school and attended classes like any other weekday; however, in West Virginia students were enjoying a day off from classes. West Virginia teachers began a statewide strike on Feb. 22, and kept their students out of school for over a week. Every school in the state of West Virginia was shut down because of the massive strike.
Talks of frustration and possible strikes began in November of 2017, when West Virginia proposed new rules for the state employees’ health plans. The new plan would lead to a significant cost increase for deductibles and premiums if a family has both spouses working or a teacher is working multiple jobs. Teachers could find themselves struggling to pay for health insurance for themselves and their children. West Virginia teachers made the decision to go on strike because of their dissatisfaction with this.
The teachers of West Virginia stormed the capital building to demand higher pay and lower health care costs. The state of West Virginia ranks 48th in the United States for teacher compensation, and the teachers could not stand idly by any longer. Originally, the teachers attempted a “rolling strike,” where individuals from a few counties would walk out each day. On Feb. 2, deemed “Fed-Up Friday,” staff members from southern West Virginia’s counties skipped work. This led to another day-long walkout on Feb. 16, and more counties rallied at the state capitol. After both of these walkouts, teachers across the state found that their efforts were meaningless. The union leaders met and announced their state-wide strike and rally at the capitol.
Teachers began the strike aiming to force Governor Justice to sign a 5 percent pay increase. The strike seemed to have reached its goal on Feb. 27, after a deal was reached. Teachers were meant to return to school on March 1, but did not feel their fight was over. West Virginia’s teachers were smart to avoid a strike stoppage because the bill that would increase their pay was rejected by the State Senate. Instead, the State Senate proposed a 4 percent pay raise. The teachers were still not satisfied and continued their strike.
The West Virginia teacher strike lasted until March 6 in all 55 counties. Students missed nine full school days. Governor Jim Justice provided teachers with their demands and signed a 5 percent pay increase into law. The contract agreement, signed on March 6, allowed for 20,000 teachers to begin working again, as well as 10,000 support staff employees. After nine long days of negotiations, teachers and students returned to school on March 7.