All 55 of West Virginia’s counties have canceled school on Friday, as teachers in the state continue a historic strike for better healthcare.
On Tuesday, Justice announced that he was proposing an immediate 5 percent raise for all teachers and a 3 percent raise for other state employees. But the strike initially began as a push for more affordable health insurance, which is controlled by the state-run Public Employees’ Insurance Agency and has been controversially changed over the past several months. Justice’s only promise on that front was a forming a task force to recommend changes to the program.
Teachers expressed dismay that the original purpose of the strike, to get a better deal on health insurance, wasn’t addressed in a concrete way by Justice or union leadership. “It does feel a little bit like an insult,” high school English teacher Samantha Nelson, who was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in January, told CNN. “It’s like they haven’t been hearing anything we’ve been saying. It’s diverting attention from the original problem.”
And so on Wednesday night, teachers in every county had decided to continue the strike, closing schools on Thursday in all 55 counties. This time, the news came much quicker: every county had given notice that school was canceled by 6:04 p.m on Thursday night.
This is already the longest West Virginia teachers’ strike since 1990, which saw an 11-day strike for better pay; in that case, however, teachers in only 47 counties went on strike. And this time around, perhaps no one has felt the momentum of the teachers’ unified power more than the governor: on Wednesday night, Justice was forced to respond to a rumor (posted by a Democratic state representative on Facebook) that he had abruptly resigned:
As of now, there’s no end to the strike in sight, but some teachers are vowing to continue on until there’s a more substantial commitment to improving PEIA.
“In my county at least, the sentiment is that we’re not going back to work until there’s solid proof that our demands are going to be met,” middle school teacher Jay O’Neal told Jacobin on Thursday. “Our biggest fear is that they’re just going to keep pushing back the question of PEIA.”