This Tuesday, through collective action and solidarity, West Virginia’s public school teachers and support staff won a 5% pay raise for themselves and all state workers, a freeze in health insurance premiums, and the end of a punitive “wellness” program. Together, these rank and file educators also stopped a charter school bill, and beat back a bogus anti-union “paycheck protection” act.
By going on strike, and holding fast when state leaders failed to take real action on these demands, they defended a minimum standard of life not just for themselves but all West Virginians. They have also been an inspiration to state employees, and the public they serve, facing similar austerity budgets across the country.
Going forward, we stand with West Virginia state workers demanding that the legislature reverse corporate welfare and raise taxes on natural gas companies in order to fund these raises and fix PEIA, the state health insurance fund that public employees rely on for themselves and their families. The raises that teachers won were not contingent on any specific cuts to other services, despite Republicans’ cynical messaging. We will support the continued fight by teachers and school workers to ensure that the gains won by their struggle do not come at the expense of other workers, but from the deep pockets of the private interests profiting off West Virginia.
We pledge to stand by West Virginians as they continue to fight for dedicated and permanent funding for PEIA. The state has starved the fund for years, meaning that raises won’t reverse the damage of rising health care costs. This is a reality at bargaining tables across the United States, where bosses try to force workers to choose between healthcare and living wages. We follow in teachers’ footsteps as they say no more: workers deserve both. And we call for Medicare for All at the national level to put an end to the healthcare crisis created by our for-profit healthcare system, which punishes union and non-union, public-sector and private-sector workers alike.
The example of the West Virginia teachers is especially crucial as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Janus v AFSCME, a case that will likely bring national right-to-work to public-sector workplaces across the country. As labor lawyer Joe Burns explains, “In the Janus framework, public employees (and all employees) should deal with employers as individuals. Unions — where they are allowed to exist — are merely collections of individuals instead of instruments of the working class.” West Virginia teachers, who operate under Janus conditions with no legal right to collectively bargain and no right to strike, have forcefully demonstrated how workers can resist this insidious framework. It is our duty to honor their contribution by remaining in steadfast solidarity as public employees across the country, such as the teachers in Oklahoma, prepare to take up their example and fight legal repression and austerity with organizing and collective action.