Thousands of West Virginia teachers are again hopeful about their future thanks to the announcement today that state lawmakers agreed to raise their pay by five percent, ending a nine-day strike.
Teachers in the Mountain State took the dramatic action because they ranked 48th overall in pay after going four years without a salary increase. Their low wages belied the fact that their jobs have gotten dramatically harder in recent years due to societal ills like an opioid epidemic that have ravaged families in the state.
Day after day, teachers were joined by fellow unions like the Teamsters, their students and other community members at the state Capitol to stand up for fair pay and improved benefits for those who are tasked with educating West Virginia’s children. Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said their apparent victory shows elected officials will listen to workers when they are unified.
“What they are doing is making an investment in their future,” Lee said during an interview with MSNBC. “This shows people that by uniting, their voices can be heard.”
West Virginia teachers have also inspired teachers in other states to rally together. In Oklahoma, which ranks 49th in teacher pay, educators are getting ready to strike. The Oklahoma Education Association is putting together a shutdown plan as well as a proposal for how wage increases could be covered. More than 55,000 people have joined a Facebook page in support of the actions.
These actions come at a time when public sector unions are under attack. Just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard “Janus v. AFSCME”, which challenges whether public school teachers and government workers should be required to pay “agency fees” to cover contract negotiation and worker representation costs.
For more than 40 years, federal law has provided public employees the right to join together in a union as a way to have a voice on the job with respect to how they are paid, the benefits they receive, and general conditions of employment such as the procedures for taking time off from work.
Workers can’t control the Supreme Court’s decision in the case. But they can fight like hell for increased unionization. The latest numbers released in January by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the number of workers belonging to a union grew by 262,000 last year to 14.8 million overall in 2017. Workers are showing they want to be a part of a movement for dignity and justice on the job. And West Virginia teachers are proving it can be done.