Union leadership said Saturday the statewide teacher and school service personnel work stoppage will continue indefinitely after a Senate committee lowered a pay raise proposal for the groups that was forwarded by the House of Delegates, which then passed the Senate.
The House passed a bill Wednesday to raise salaries of teachers, school service personnel and State Police by 5 percent, a figure agreed upon to end the work stoppage.
The Senate Finance Committee, however, amended the bill Saturday evening to decrease that figure to 4 percent.
“At this point, the three organizations announce that we are out indefinitely — we will not accept the four percent,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, speaking on behalf of the state American Federation of Teachers arm and the West Virginia School Service and Personnel Association, following the committee’s vote. “Until this bill passes at 5 percent, we will be out indefinitely.”
The Senate accepted the committee’s amendment on a 19-15 vote, with several Republicans breaking from the caucus to vote with Democrats. The Senate then passed the amended bill, 21-13, to send it back to the House.
Immediately after the committee amendment vote, jeering broke out from the Senate gallery. Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, dispatched the Senate sergeant-at-arms to remove the culprits.
If the House, which passed the bill 98-1, were to vote against concurring, each chamber would appoint a conference committee to hammer out the differences.
Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, who proposed the amendment, said the money saved would go toward a potential 4 percent raise in the budget bill for all public employees, who also deserve one. That legislation has not yet been drafted.
In a swift rebuke of the plan, Lee said the strike will continue. He said Gov. Jim Justice, the House of Delegates and the three unions all followed through with a good faith agreement: The full raise would end the work stoppage. However, the Senate reneged and the unions are holding their position.
In an interview after the committee session, Boso said he made the amendment because all public employees deserve a raise, not just teachers, school service personnel and State Police. He said while he believes teachers are underpaid, several sects of employees at the Capitol and beyond have gone longer than teachers without a raise.
After hours of debate in a packed committee room, with a full house watching a livestream from the Senate gallery and enough web traffic watching the livestream to overload the servers, the committee, comprised of 11 Republicans and six Democrats, passed the amendment on a tight 9-8 vote.
Republican Sens. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, and Lynne Arvon, R-Raleigh, broke from their caucus, as they have several times on the matter, and voted with the Senate Democrats against the amendment.
Arvon said in an interview the school workers in her family convinced her to vote for the raises.
“It’s been hard, but it’s a heart vote for me,” she said. “My daughter is a teacher, I have two brothers-in-law that are superintendents, I have bus drivers, teachers aides, principals … Ninety percent of my family is in education. So that’s it right there. It boils down to family. I don’t totally disagree with my caucus, you have to be concerned with — do we have the money for this? But I think the governor came out, he said he does have the money. That freed me up to say, ‘Ok, we’ve got the money, let’s give these raises.’ ”
Mann received a standing ovation from teachers in the Senate gallery when he entered the chamber after the committee hearing.
During the committee hearing, Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, grilled Boso on the amendment. He said all it does is lower the pay raises for the three groups, while making no substantive guarantee that other public employees receive their 4 percent raise in the budget bill.
Teachers and school service personnel began their statewide work stoppage Feb. 22. Since then, a dynamic package of deals has come and gone, each of which has failed to end the strike. However, a handful of counties paved the way earlier last month.
At a press conference Wednesday evening, Justice announced an early form of the Senate’s bill, paid for with no new taxes and based on new revenue estimates his administration released that were $58 million higher than earlier projections.
While February numbers came in higher than anticipated, the state’s year-to-date revenue numbers are $17.5 million below projections.