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Striking West Virginia teachers just won big over Republican lawmakers

The teachers walked off the job for nearly two weeks to get a 5 percent pay raise

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Mar 6 2018, 4:49pm

Teachers in West Virginia have reached a deal that would end their nearly two-week-long statewide strike.

Both house voted unanimously to give teachers — as well all state employees — a 5 percent pay raise on Tuesday. That’s one percent more than the Republican state Senate offered the teachers on Saturday.

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“This is a joyous day,” Fred Albert, a sixth grade math teacher at DuPont Middle School in Charleston, West Virginia told VICE News. “We certainly feel that we have gained a victory, not just for our teachers but for our service personnel and public employees of West Virginia.”

The West Virginia teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. Only in Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Mississippi are teachers paid less. The average teacher salary in the state is about $45,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but not all teachers make that much.

“I keep seeing this number thrown around — $45K is the average teacher salary. I’ve been teaching for 7 years and I am nowhere near that,” Leah Clay Stone, a West Virginia teacher told Dissent magazine.

The strike, currently in its ninth day, won’t end until Governor Jim Justice signs the bill into law. He tweeted Tuesday morning, “We have reached a deal.”

On Saturday, it appeared that a deal had been reached that would allow the teachers to go back to work. Union leadership even called off the strike. But when Republicans in the state Senate passed a version of the bill that only included a 4 percent pay increase — less than 5 percent that teachers were demanding — the teachers stayed on strike.

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The win for the teachers in West Virginia could prompt teachers in other states to strike. Teachers in Oklahoma, the lowest paid public school teachers in the country, appear to be inching closer to a strike. A Facebook group, started last week, called “Oklahoma Teacher Walkout - The Time Is Now!” gained 20,000 members in two days. The group now has over 40,000 members. On Thursday, the major teachers union in Oklahoma is expected to unveil a strike strategy.

In New Jersey, where teachers have been working without a union contract since September, they’re mulling a strike, too. The teachers voted to authorize a strike as a last resort measure, according to NJ.com.

“I think that we have been an inspiration for the country,” Albert said. “We know that public education is under attack all across the country.”

Still, the full details of the West Virginia teachers’ deal and its repercussions aren’t clear yet. Republicans in the state Senate have indicated that they’re preparing deep cuts in other areas of the state budget in order to justify the pay bump for the teachers. And the fate of the public employees insurance agency, which provides state employee benefits, remains unclear.

The cost of health insurance was a major motivating factor for some of the teachers on strike. The Governor Justice agreed to set up a task force to address the state of the program, and Albert told VICE News there will be no rate increases for the next 16 months.

Cover image: Striking school workers hold signs and chant inside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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