The Wildcat Did Growl

Despite a deal on salary reached between union leaders and West Virginia Governor Jim Justice that appeared to be enough to end a nearly week-long strike, teachers are still out of school asking for specifics on health insurance and more resources for their schools.

Jacobin has more on this wildcat strike:

So while the union leaders were with the governor, we were all out on the steps, waiting for the NBC newscast to start. There was a big crowd. As is the case these days, everybody was on their phones, trying to follow the news to get a sense of what was going on.

Within ten minutes, we found out through the governor’s press conference that a deal had been reached. Teachers and school staff would get a 5 percent pay raise, and 3 percent for all state employees. The governor also said that a task force would be set up to figure out how to improve PEIA, our statewide health insurance plan for public sector workers.

Fifteen minutes after the press conference, union leaders came out and addressed the crowd. The basic problem was that they presented this deal as a victory. They told us we’d be out on strike one more day, then return to school on Thursday.

People were up in arms, really frustrated. Of course, a 5 percent raise is great, but what we’ve been really fighting for in this struggle is PEIA. This has been a huge issue, causing problems for years. They’ve been cutting our health insurance over and over, making it really expensive to survive.

So when it was announced that all we got on PEIA was a task force, people were upset. Teachers in the crowd started interrupting and yelling at our leaders: “We’re not going back in for that!” Everyone started chanting, “We are the union bosses! We are the union bosses!” and “Back to the table! Back to the table!”

Strikers now have a sense of our power, and we don’t want to back down. We weren’t satisfied with the deal. Again, this is mainly because of the health insurance. People are nervous and rightly cynical that the state government has any actual intention to fix this. A lot of teachers are now awakening to what’s happening at our statehouse.

We need to see real movement, real solutions, for PEIA. We need a new revenue source. A lot of us have been saying that the solution is a severance tax on natural gas. This would only tax the big out-of-state corporations, not ordinary West Virginians.

MORE on what’s next in West Virginia

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