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West Virginia Senate Education Committee Advances Anti-Strike Bill

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Will Price
/
West Virginia Legislative Photography
Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, leans over to speak to Senate Education Chair Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, during a meeting held Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.

A committee of West Virginia lawmakers has approved a bill that would make it clearly illegal for public workers to go on strike. The effort comes after educators held two strikes in recent years.

According to Senate Bill 11, public educators who strike would have their pay deducted for days missed. The bill would also prohibit extracurricular activities on days canceled by a strike.

West Virginia teachers and school service personnel went on strike for nine classroom days in 2018 — calling for better pay and benefits, among other demands.

Before teachers went on strike in late February that year, Republican Attorney Patrick Morrisey said work stoppages or strikes by public employees are illegal.

In 2019, educators and service personnel walked off the job again — this time to oppose a complex omnibus bill that opened the door for charter schools, among other reforms. A version of that bill was passed in a special session that summer.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the upper chamber’s education committee, Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, questioned committee attorney Hank Hager as to whether extracurricular activities were allowed during past strikes.

“That really doesn't differ from what we've had in the past, does it, in terms of extracurricular activities?” Plymale asked. “I didn't think that they were able to participate on the day if they were canceled.”

Hager told committee members that — while he was unable to cite anything in state code — extracurricular activities have, as a practical matter, been canceled during strikes.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, argued that the bill would pull authority away from county school boards when making decisions that affect their employees during a strike.

“We seem to love local control when it benefits local control — and we seem to love centralized control, and we want centralized control,” Romano said. “I mean, this is really taking away local control of the education system from the counties and putting it in the hands of this ever changing and often wavering body of political elected officials.”

Senate Education Chair Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, chimed in to say that the bill does not affect local control in the way Romano was trying to imply.

“They still have the flexibility of their school calendar. That still exists. We're not taking that away,” Rucker said. “It still lets them handle personnel decisions on their own.”

Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, asked Hager to clarify about pay deductions for missed days and whether that pay could be reinstated. Grady is a public school teacher who won election for the first time in November after defeating then-Senate President Mitch Carmichael in the June primary.

Carmichael was seen by many teachers and service personnel as an adversary during the 2018 and 2019 strikes. Unions publicly campaigned against him in the 2020 election cycle.

“If students are not in school or school is canceled, for some reason — due to not having enough personnel to staff — those days will still have to be made up at the end of the year? So those personnel would still get paid for making up those days?” Grady asked.

Hager told committee members that educators would have to make up any work days missed and could then have deducted pay reinstated.

On a voice vote Tuesday, members of the Senate Education Committee agreed to advance Senate Bill 11 to the floor.

While the votes of each member was indiscernible, Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, and Romano both requested to have their votes be recorded as “no.”


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