Public school teachers and state employees in West Virginia have been on strike for the past week. The workers have been advocating for better pay and healthcare. On Wednesday, the state’s House of Representatives reached a deal that would give the teachers a 5% raise and other state workers a 3% bump. Despite union leadership approving the proposed plan, workers have gone against their own labor organization and continue to strike.
The state’s healthcare program is the big problem: Healthcare premiums for state employees have skyrocketed, and the state government has refused to tackle the problem. Speaking with the New York Times, a high school educator named Katie Endicott said the state was raising her costs by hundreds of dollars, while not adequately increasing salaries. Though the government has offered short-term solutions–namely, freezing insurance rates and the proposed salary increase–that doesn’t solve the problem in the future.
The teachers feel the state legislature is simply not listening to them: Though the proposed 5% salary increase seemed like a start, the teachers realized that healthcare remained a looming and ever-growing problem. Until the government figured out a long-term solution to deal with rising healthcare costs, the teachers feel the strike remains necessary.
Legislative demands: For days, the West Virginia government has been discussing bills and amendments to give them adequate pay and compensation. The teachers are demanding that these bills be passed, and they want a task force to attack the healthcare issue.
Ultimately, this is a historic moment: Not only is it West Virginia’s longest teachers’ strike in two decades, it’s also an example of workers—by virtue of defying their own labor union—exerting greater control over their futures. The strike could also provide a blueprint for workers in other states and industries.
“We need specific details about how this is going to be fixed,” said Endicott.