By Sahid Fawaz
Teachers in West Virginia have had enough and are ready to go on strike.
"Over the weekend at a statewide meeting, educators and school service personnel made the historic decision to authorize a statewide strike. AFT-West Virginia President Christine Campbell and West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee announced this decision at a press conference on Monday at the state Capitol. The voting was conducted county by county, and members voted overwhelming to authorize a statewide action.
'We can’t wait, and we won’t wait,' said Christine Campbell, president of AFT-West Virginia. 'The crisis in public education in this state has come to a head, and teachers and service personnel have reached their breaking point. Leaders from all across West Virginia—some driving as much as four hours to attend the meeting—made it clear that teachers and service personnel are appalled by the lack of attention that legislators are paying to education priorities. Our members want to see movement in a positive direction—not a negative direction—period. For far too long, our members and the students they serve have suffered because qualified, experienced teachers are leaving the state in search of adequate pay and benefits elsewhere.'
Campbell continued, 'We are devoted to the students and the communities that we serve, even to the degree that the majority of educators are willing to spend their dwindling individual resources on supplies that will help their students achieve success. It’s unacceptable that some of our elected leaders don’t feel the same way. For years, we have heard the legislative leadership say they care about public education. But those statements were clearly disingenuous—actions speak louder than words. When we raised our voices and demanded change, these same leaders pushed forward legislation that would drive away experienced, highly qualified teachers and diminish our ability to have a collective voice for public education.'
Before this weekend’s vote announcement and the individual county voting process, educators and community member across West Virginia engaged in walk-ins and informational pickets, and attended community meetings with countless legislators, to no avail. West Virginia teachers’ salaries now rank 48 out of 50 nationally; instead of enabling educators to provide the best education for their students and take care of their families, legislative leaders have made that impossible.
'We stand with the brave educators and their unions as they fight for their state’s future,' said AFT President Randi Weingarten. 'We should be investing in public education as part of that future. Instead, legislative leaders are sitting idly by as educator pay goes down, healthcare costs go up, and surrounding states poach some of West Virginia’s brightest teachers and pay them more.'"