The lilting melody of Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” filled the air with exhilaration as news of the West Virginia Governor signing a bill that allows a 5% rise in pay scales for state employees, including teachers, reached the crowd of educators who went on a nine-day-long strike, bringing the state’s public education system to a standstill. A great moment to rejoice the raise in pay scales for a profession that is known to create all other professions, teachers explained how they missed the children in school and the classes that were halted due to the strike.
What was the strike all about? Here is a complete overview of the teacher’s strike in West Virginia.
Teachers’ strike in West Virginia: breaking it down
Starting February 22 of this year, the teachers of the public schools in the state of West Virginia in the USA went on a strike, walking out of classrooms and taking the streets. They did so in protest of a bill signed by Governor James Justice that was to put in place a 2% salary hike for state police and school service professionals, including teachers, to be effective this July. The teachers were also eligible for a 1% salary hike in the years 2020 and 2021.
The teachers in the state were positively outraged at such a meagre raise that would not even let them make the ends meet in the coming years as the cost of living expenses shoot up by 2% per year. The teachers decided to go on an indefinite strike until their demands for a 5% (and no less) salary hike was met by the lawmaking authorities of the country. Schools remained shut as public educators joined the protest in unison, demanding their voices be heard, and appeals to be met.
Schoolchildren in West Virginia and a nine-day break from school
More than 277,000 schoolchildren in West Virginia were affected by the strike, and parents resorted to engaging them actively during school hours. Most of the children in West Virginia enjoyed an unplanned break from their routine activities, as public schools in the state remained closed for the entire duration of the strike. Some went for ice skating classes while some remained home to have a go at their PlayStations. Some other children were reported missing school, and the parents became worried about the piled up coursework that got affected due to the strike.
There is a bittersweet side to this tale as well. Not many know that the state of West Virginia has a poverty rate of 17.9%. This means that many of the school-going children relied upon the free lunches and breakfasts at the public educational institutions during mealtimes. To ensure that those kids did not go hungry while the protest strike was on, the teachers formed a volunteer group and collected food that was distributed among the needy children throughout the duration of the strike, without fail.
The spokespersons on behalf of the teachers announced plans to shorten spring break to cover for the lessons and coursework missed due to the strike that took place for nine school days, starting February 22.
What caused the teachers’ outcry in West Virginia?
The educators in the public schools of West Virginia felt outraged by many state policies that were brought into place that made their lot something akin to the oppressed class, primarily due to the nationwide austerity drives brought about following the change in the presidency of the USA. The crucial factors at play that led to the teachers of public schools in West Virginia to take to the streets in protest of a teensy pay rise are as follows.
· The proposed 2% salary increase that was to be effective from July and the 1% hike in salaries in the years 2020 and 2021 would not have been able to keep pace with the cost of living inflation that grows by 2% per year in the USA
· The proposed bill largely overlooked the issues of public healthcare costs, payroll deduction factors, and state employee insurance programs for the teachers in West Virginia
· The last salary hike that the teachers in the state experienced was back in 2014
· Many West Virginia teachers have side jobs to manage their finances as their salaries alone won’t cut the expenses shooting through the roof with each passing day
· The National Education Association stats show that West Virginia teachers rank 47th in the country as far as the salaries for teachers are concerned
· A 1% raise for the next five years would have resulted in a 5% pay cut in educational sectors factoring in the aspects of inflation rates and living expenses in the nation
The strike, in all senses, gripped the nation and compelled the lawmaking authorities to look up and take notice of the cause that the educators in the state became so vocal about.
West Virginia teachers’ strike issues: resolved
Into the fifth day of the strike, the tables seemed to turn in the favor of the teachers in the state as the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill proposing a 5% increase in the salaries of the employees of the state, backed by Governor Justice. The relief on the part of the educators was short-lived as the Senate rejected the bill and proposed a 4% increase instead. This led to the teachers in West Virginia getting further infuriated, and they vowed not to back down or go back to teaching at the schools until their demands were met.
The ninth day of the strike saw appeasement efforts on the part of the lawmaking authorities of the country as the Senate, the House of Delegates and the Governor of West Virginia approved the 5% pay raise for state employees, including teachers. The bill passed all the hierarchical levels, marking it as a historic win for the educators’ protest movement in the state. Cheerful about their victory over an oppressive state remuneration system, the teachers in West Virginia expressed their eagerness to return to the classrooms.
The outcome of the protest is now being proclaimed as one of the greatest triumphs of movements in the country. The Senate, strong-armed into submission in the face of an indefinite strike by the teachers in West Virginia, along with the House of Delegates and the Governor of the state, passed the bill for a 5% increase in the salaries for the public sector employees. This brought a lot of joy and relief to many essay writing service and educators in the state who would otherwise have been unable to see through the economic security of their families had the movement not taken forward.
What the strike means for the future of labor movements in America
A nine-day strike by the teachers is uncharacteristic for the educators in the country. However, the protest that resulted in a historic 5% salary hike for state educators and other public employees in West Virginia has inspired many at home and abroad. The teachers’ strike in the state has urged many educators and other public employees from the other federal states of the country to sit up and revise their rights to higher pay as well.
The states ranking lower than West Virginia in terms of salaries for teachers, namely Oklahoma, South Dakota and Mississippi especially have been inspired to form a voice of their own that highlights their problems as well. The teachers in Oklahoma, for example, are considering going on a strike to bring about a remarkable pay raise for state employees and public educators that would help them keep pace with the rising rates of inflation as living expenses shoot through the roof in the new age.
Many eminent academicians have marked the nine-day strike by West Virginia teachers as a modern-day labor movement that recognises the rights of the working class and focuses on their problems. The triumph over the lawmaking authorities on the part of the West Virginia teachers is thus seen as a start of something huge in the USA. Many people have finally realised that taking up the cudgels to bring about change for the greater good is perhaps the only way to ensure the protection of their rights in a democratic framework of a developed nation.
Here is hoping for recognition of the toils of the working class by the decision-making authorities in the country and the world over, for it is not a time that underpaid state employees will continue being oppressed in the existing state economy that is robbing them of their means to have a comfortable life.
The West Virginia teachers have thus really been pathbreaking in their gloriously successful attempts at bringing about the much-needed change in the education system of the state. Many salutes to the undaunted teachers of the misty mountain state!
Jijo Thomas is a photojournalist based in Miami and part-time assignment writer at My Assignment Help UK. Having a penchant for writing, he blogs about the many issues that plague academia today; he is also a firm believer of a better tomorrow that can be brought about with concerted efforts, joining hands with fellow beings facing distress.