GOP moves to ban teacher strikes in West Virginia
Capitol police block off the floor of the West Virginia Senate from hundreds of West Virginia teachers and service workers, on Saturday, June, 1, 2019, in Charleston, W.Va. | F. Brian Ferguson / Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP

CHARLESTON, W. Va. (PAI)—The Republican-run state House here will take up legislation on June 17 to boost charter schools and vouchers to parents of private school kids, outlaw public school teacher strikes, fire all public workers—not just teachers—who strike, and withhold pay from strikers. The State Senate approved the bill on an 18-15 party line vote on May 30.

So, West Virginia teachers and parents may have to hit the streets to defend their kids—again. They already have twice this year.

“Charter schools, no! Public schools yes!” the thousands of teachers who descended on the state capitol building in Charleston chanted in their latest protest.

GOP State Senate President “Mitch Carmichael and his ilk aren’t listening to West Virginians that have overwhelmingly, 88%, spoken out against charter schools and ESAs,” Nicole McCormick, the Montgomery County Education Association president and a teacher at Bluefield Middle School told local media. ESAs are “education savings accounts,” a pseudonym for vouchers to use at private schools.

“So, my question is: Who are they listening to? Certainly not Wet Virginians, absolutely not the experts, West Virginia educators. So I have to believe they are listening to ALEC, Betsy DeVos, and their corporate donors.” DeVos is President Donald Trump’s Education Secretary, a big GOP donor from Michigan who constantly targets public schools, their teachers, and unions. ALEC is a corporate-funded right-wing lobby that imposes its “model” anti-worker legislation on states.

The West Virginia GOP’s legislation is in retaliation for the statewide teachers’ strike last year, which shut down every school in the state for nine working days.

The state forced that strike, in so-called “right to work” West Virginia, by offering teachers a skimpy raise—after a decade-long pay freeze—offset by destruction of pensions and huge increases in health care premiums.

That strike, which drew tens of thousands of parents and students to Charleston in the dead of winter despite the Mountaineer State’s treacherous roads, forced the legislature to back down.

It also triggered a wave of similar forced teachers’ strikes in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, and even among charter school teachers in Chicago. In all those cases, lawmakers and governors forced teachers, parents, and students—often with parents in the lead and all from the grassroots—to strike on behalf of better classroom conditions, up-to-date textbooks, better pay, and better staffing in the schools.

When West Virginia lawmakers schemed to enact givebacks this past February, another strike forced them to back down after nine hours. The GOP tried again in May, and the teachers and their allies surrounded the state capital again. That time, though, senators charged ahead with their so-called “Student Success Act.” Now, they plan to be back when the state House starts its session on June 17.

“I came with a group from the Northern Panhandle today because I believe that the only way that we will continue to lead the charge for protecting workers’ rights and blocking harmful legislation is if workers mobilize,” Weir High School teacher Brendan Muckian-Bates said.


“Today’s protest was a strong show of force that proves once again that, no matter what bill Mitch and his cronies try to push through, education workers of West Virginia will show up to stop it,” he told local media.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told local media he thinks the state House of Delegates will take its time after the GOP speaker split the Student Success Act into four separate pieces and sent them to four committees.

“Speaker Hanshaw already said he’s going to break the components apart and look at each thing individually, which we’ve been saying…that’s what needs to happen. And I expect the House is going to listen to the public and West Virginians instead of outside interest groups,” Lee said.

“In West Virginia, educators who went on strike twice within a year are still fighting for sufficient funding, with broad public support,” said national Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten.

She cited a state Education Department report, West Virginia’s Voice, which surveyed more than 20,000 West Virginians on their views on public education.

“The report shows residents overwhelmingly favor increasing the number of school social workers, psychologists, and counselors, providing funding to strengthen teachers’ skills in shortage areas such as math and raising pay for school employees,” Weingarten noted.

But West Virginia Republicans “instead are pushing legislation for charter schools and voucher-like education savings accounts for private and religious school tuition, even though West Virginia’s Voice found residents favor existing public schools and oppose school privatization due to concerns about “fraud, lack of accountability, and concentration of benefits to higher-income families.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.