Public schools across West Virginia are closed Thursday as teachers and other school employees hit the picket lines, demanding higher wages and better benefits.
According to Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, teachers in all of the state’s 55 counties are participating in the planned two-day walk-out, and a group will march Thursday morning to the capitol building in Charleston.
Organizers expect thousands of teachers to participate.
The work stoppage comes after Gov. Jim Justice signed legislation late Wednesday night granting teachers a 2% pay increase starting in July, followed by 1% pay increases over the next two years. But union officials have said that’s not a sufficient fix. Teachers are also requesting better healthcare and benefits packages.
“We need to keep our kids and teachers in the classroom,” Justice said in a statement after signing the pay raise bill. “We certainly recognize our teachers are underpaid and this is a step in the right direction to addressing their pay issue.”
Before the bill was signed into law, Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia, said the suggested raises didn’t reflect the state’s financial situation as described by the governor.
“They say they want us to stay in West Virginia and teach our children, but the multi-year pay raise has now been reduced from 5 percent to 4 percent. I don’t believe that any of our school employees are really buying what’s being said, especially when there are personal attacks and all these things from different directions,” Campbell said in a newsletter for union members.
“We told [Gov. Justice] from day one that was not enough,” Lee told CNN on the phone from a picket line in Charleston, West Virginia, Thursday morning.
Passing cars are honking their horns in support of the teachers as they drive by the picket line, Lee told CNN.
“The support we’re getting is truly amazing,” he said.