W.Va. Teacher, School Service Personnel Unions Announce 2nd Strike in as Many Years

Feb 18, 2019

Updated February 18, 2019 at 7:27 p.m.

Leaders of West Virginia teacher and school service personnel unions have announced a statewide strike will begin Tuesday. That announcement came at a Monday news conference as the upper chamber was set to adopt an amendment to the House of Delegates’ version of Senate Bill 451.

Representatives of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association made the announcement at a 6 p.m. news conference outside the Senate chamber. 

The statewide strike will be the second in as many years. In February 2018, West Virginia teachers went on strike over pay and benefits. The 2018 walkouts lasted nine school days.

This year, teachers and school employees are set to walk off the job in protest of the latest developments on Senate Bill 451 -- a long, sweeping and controversial education reform package. The bill ties another round of pay raises with charter schools and other provisions opposed by teachers.

That measure has been on a winding path since being unveiled in the Senate in late January -- with some hotly contested components being removed and then being reinstated as the bill made its way through committees and the House and Senate as a whole.

The announcement of the strike came as senators were set to vote on an amendment that would reinstate education savings accounts (with a limit of 1,000 and for parents of students with special needs) and raise the proposed cap on charter schools from two pilot schools to seven charters statewide.

Union leaders said they were not premature in their announcement, arguing that they had heard the House had whipped up enough votes to concur with the Senate’s latest proposal, which was expected to clear the upper chamber Monday night.

“We want the process to work. We want the House to take their time like they've done before,” American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia president Fred Albert said. “But we're not leaving anything to chance and we're not waiting a day longer.”

The House would be left with only a couple options.

“The only chance they have is either accept the Senate insert amendment or to reject it and possibly go to conference [committee]. So, it doesn't matter what happened last week,” West Virginia Education Association president Dale Lee said. “We're now dealing with the final version of this bill, which is the Senate amended version and we'll go from there.”

But a strike would likely bring friction between unions and some county school administrators. With some superintendents -- including Ron Duerring of Kanawha County -- planning to keep schools open, union leaders say they don't know what to expect until something happens.

"We'll wait and see what the superintendent's do tomorrow. We’ve heard anecdotally what will happen, but we'll deal with that day by day as it happens. I don’t know what their actions are going to be. We'll deal with that as it comes," Lee said.

By 7 p.m. Monday, county officials began calling off school for Tuesday.