Leaders of educator and service personnel unions in West Virginia have the greenlight to call a work action if and when they deem it necessary. The decision comes as the Legislature considers a long, sweeping and controversial education reform measure that’s sparked reaction from teachers, school service personnel and their unions.
Union leaders said Saturday that public educators across the state voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize the leaders of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association to call a work action as needed. Members and their leaders met Saturday in Flatwoods to tally votes that were cast over the course of the week.
Ballots sent to members this week stated: “I authorize the state leadership of AFT-WV, WVSSPA and WVEA to call a statewide work action should circumstances surrounding he Omnibus Education Bill merit such a work stoppage. And I further authorize the state leadership of the organizations to determine the appropriate time for that action to take place.”
Response options on the ballot were limited to “yes” and “no” on the authorization vote.
A “work action” is undefined, but could be anything from a picket to a full blown strike. Union leaders also did not provide totals of the authorization vote.
The announcement comes a day after the House Education Committee approved a stripped down strike-and-insert version of Senate Bill 451 -- as compared to what was passed earlier this week in the Senate.
The House Education Committee’s version removes many of the provisions opposed by educators and the leaders of their unions, including provisions that would force members to sign off annually on the deduction of union dues, education savings accounts, and withholding pay during a strike. A non-severability clause -- which would make the entire measure null and void should any of its provisions be struck down in a court challenge -- was also pulled from the committee’s proposal.
Other provisions in the bill -- including the establishment of charter schools -- have been significantly altered through amendments in the committee.
While union leaders say they are happy with the bill being whittled away, nothing is final until the legislation is signed by Gov. Jim Justice. The House Education Committee’s strike-and-insert amendment is also merely formative until it is adopted on the chamber floor. If approved with any changes to the version passed by the Senate, the bill would be sent back to the upper chamber.
“Currently, the bill is better than it was,” American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia president Fred Albert said.
But Albert and his counterparts at the other unions say there is still a long way to go.
“We will continue to monitor the bill as continues to move through the process,” West Virginia Education Association president Dale Lee said.
The process for Senate Bill 451 will include two public hearings scheduled for Monday, Feb. 11 -- with one at 8 a.m. and another at 5:30 p.m. The House Finance Committee will also consider the measure before it heads to the floor for the full chamber’s consideration.
“We are going to continue to meet with our members and listen to them as to what they feel they want to do as this bill moves through the legislative session,” Albert said.