In one of the more shameless political claims of recent memory, West Virginia Republicans, led by Governor Jim Justice, are taking credit for the 5% pay raise teachers were given after going on strike:
“At the end of the day, the teachers’ pay raise last year — the teachers pay raise — that all happened not because of people that were rah-rahing and everything upstairs, it happened because of the good work of the Republicans,” Justice said at the new raise announcement.
This is quite frankly, ludicrous.
The process that ultimately led to the 5 percent pay raise earned by West Virginia teachers began in earnest in January of 2018 when a Democratic State Senator, Richard Ojeda, who is now running for U.S. Congress, sided with teachers to oppose the meager 1 percent raise that was offered by the Republican Governor Jim Justice, the same Republican Governor who is now trying to take credit for the 5 percent raise.
West Virginia Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, warned fellow lawmakers Wednesday of a possible teachers’ strike unless the state Legislature comes up with a viable pay raise for educators.
Gov. Jim Justice has proposed a 1 percent pay raise for state teachers and service personnel, on top of the regular pay raises that are built into their pay scales.
But Ojeda said a 1 percent raise is not enough. Justice proposed a 2 percent teacher pay raise during the 2017 legislative session, but Ojeda said the raise was one of the first things set aside when Legislature began looking at the state’s budget.
“This 1 percent or 2 percent is a slap in the face (to teachers),” Ojeda said. He said last year’s proposed 2 percent raise added up to about $35 a pay period for teachers.
At the time, West Virginia teacher pay was 48th in the nation. The Republican Governor wouldn’t budge, so teachers first staged a 2 day walkout in February:
A two-day walkout by thousands of West Virginia public schoolteachers and employees to protest low pay will continue on Monday, organizers said on Friday afternoon.
Organizers say teachers are so poorly paid in the state that some must take second jobs to make ends meet. In 2016, the average salary for a teacher in West Virginia was $45,622, ranking it 48th in the country, according to the National Education Association.
The strike took place after Gov. James C. Justice, a Republican, signed legislation on Wednesday that would provide teachers and school service personnel a 2 percent raise starting in July, part of an increase in salaries for some state employees.
Teachers and service personnel are scheduled to get an additional 1 percent raise in the 2020 fiscal year, and teachers will get another 1 percent raise in 2021.
The 2 day walkout was extended to a 9 day strike that was undertaken by most of the teachers in the state, and supported by most of the public. Only after immense public pressure did the Republican Governor and Legislature finally pass the 5% raise that was asked for by the teachers.
Gov. Jim Justice signed into law a 5 percent pay raise for public school teachers and school service personnel Tuesday that appears to mark the end of the nine-school-day statewide strike.
By 7 p.m., multiple county school systems, including Kanawha’s, announced that they’re reopening schools Wednesday. None said they’d be closed, although Fayette and Logan counties announced 2-hour delays.
Before a meeting of a conference committee composed of Senators and members of the House of Delegates, Justice announced that all state employees, along with teachers, school service personnel (a category including bus drivers and cooks) and State Police would receive a 5 percent raise. The raises will take effect next fiscal year, which starts July 1, and equal $2,020 for teachers.
During this standoff between West Virginia’s teachers and Republican politicians, the Republicans made their feelings about the teachers abundantly clear, as was exemplified by Republican State Senator Lynne Arvon:
But state Senator Lynne Arvon has a message for the state’s teachers, whom are among the lowest paid in the country: the “free handouts” (like standard pay increases) are over!
“The teachers have to understand that West Virginia is a red state and the free handouts are over,” Arvon was overheard saying to an aide while the strike was still going on. Teachers and staff were demanding a 5% raise, as their insurance costs were going up more than their cost of living increase.
For these Republicans to try to take credit for the teacher pay raises they opposed is just a flat out lie. These Republicans short-changed teachers for years, then forced the teachers to strike for 9 days before giving them a decent raise. Underpaying teachers and cutting education funding has been a core Republican policy for the last decade. If teachers want decent pay, and if voters want decent teachers and decently funded schools, they probably shouldn’t count on a Republican politician for support, no matter how much the Republicans may try to lie about it right before an election. It was a Democratic politician, Richard Ojeda, who actually sided with the teachers of West Virginia.