strike

The West Virginia teachers’ strike is officially over, with teachers winning a major concession from Governor Jim Justice on a wage increase.

Politico reported on Tuesday that Gov. Justice (R) signed a bill into law that would increase the pay of all public employees — not just teachers — by five percent. The bill ends a wildcat strike that became the largest teacher strike in West Virginia state history. The vote to increase state employees’ wages passed unanimously in both houses of the state legislature.

The strike — which had shut down state schools and kept more than 270,000 students home since February 22 — was prompted when Gov. Justice initially signed legislation calling for a two percent pay raise for teachers this summer, followed by one percent pay increases for two subsequent years in 2020 and 2021. However, teachers countered that the pay raise wouldn’t be enough to pay for West Virginia’s cost of living.

As Grit Post previously reported, teacher pay in West Virginia is some of the lowest in the country, with the average educator making just $32,533 a year (the MIT living wage calculator estimates that a full-time worker in West Virginia with one dependent needs to make roughly $45,884 annually ($22.06 an hour for full-time employment) in order to have an actual living wage.

West Virginia’s strike has since inspired a similar strike in Oklahoma, with teachers threatening to strike during the state’s standardized testing period, which they referred to as “the nuclear option” in a March 3 Twitter thread. The Oklahoma teachers’ gofundme — which has just over $2,700 as of this writing — states that the planned strike is to demand not only more competitive wages to be able to recruit and train the best teachers, but also to secure more funding for public education from the state legislature.

Gov. Justice, who has a net worth $1.73 billion, inherited a coal business from his father before running for office. If, hypothetically, $1.5 billion of his wealth were redistributed to West Virginia’s 20,000 teachers, they could each get $75,000 while Gov. Justice would still retain $230 million.

 

Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.

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