Thousands of teachers flooded the West Virginia capitol on Monday as their historic statewide strike entered its eighth day following the Senate's refusal to back a five percent pay raise bill—one of the educators' key demands.
"What we're seeing is a movement in the U.S. Not just a labor movement. It's a class of people rising up," Sam Brunett, an art teacher at Morgantown High School, said to USA TODAY.
Today. Day 8.
Almost 4000 educators entered the WV Capitol before 11am and the line is still wrapping the outside of the Capitol at both the east and west public entrances #WVTeacherStrike #wsaz pic.twitter.com/nuyOkQ5UKI
— Jatara McGee (@WSAZJatara) March 5, 2018
Other Twitter users on the ground captured the scene in and outside the rotunda:
— Zach D Roberts (@zdroberts) March 5, 2018
— NorthCentralWV DSA (@ncwvdsa) March 5, 2018
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The Stakes Have Never Been Higher.
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After a screw-up, the state Senate on Saturday passed a 4-percent increase for the teachers after Gov. Jim Justice and the Republican-controlled last week agreed to a 5 percent increase.
"A conference committee is set to meet at 4pm to hammer out a compromise.
Yet even if a reconciliation leads to a five percent increase, it leaves out what Jay O’Neal, a middle school teacher and a union activist in Charleston, W.Va., says is "the biggest root issue of everything" —their health insurance program, the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA).
Angie Johnson, a reading and language arts teacher at Westwood Middle School in Morgantown, W.Va., explained to This Is Hell radio that "the whole movement started over our health insurance constantly eroding."
"We cannot live comfortably already because our pay is so low," she said, bemoaning the "erosion" of PEIA that hits already thin wallets with soaring premiums.
"This is a real 'us against them,' this is a real working people standing up against huge corporations. That's the beauty of it. But that's also the hardship of it."
—Angie Johnson, W.Va. teacher"What the governor is pitching, she said, "in no way" offsets the cost of the health insurance. She also noted that the insurance program's reach extends far beyond teachers, as it "affects all school employees and state police, firefighters, and all university employees."
"This is a real 'us against them,' this is a real working people standing up against huge corporations," Johnson said. "That's the beauty of it. But that's also the hardship of it."
As Labor reporter Mike Elk told Democracy Now! Monday, there's a clear source of revenue to fund PEIA: "Currently, the governor of the state is proposing an increased tax on natural gas to pay for that. However, the Republicans in the state Legislature and their allies in the fossil fuel industry are dead set against an increased tax on natural gas. So this could all be easily fixed if there was just a tax on natural gas. However, it doesn’t appear that the traditional fossil fuel industries in West Virginia want to see that tax go through to end this teachers' strike."
Follow the hashtags #55Strong, #55United, and #WVteacherStrike as developments continue:
Tweets about #55Strong OR #55United OR #WVTeacherStrike