Saturday, March 3, 2018

Strike Up The Band One Last Time

The New York Times finally pays attention to the ongoing West Virginia teachers' strike, which now enters its second week after the deal last weekend with GOP Gov. Jim Justice fell through.

Home from a long day teaching English last month at Mingo Central High School, Robin Ellis told her husband the latest talk among the teachers. They were tired of low pay and costly health benefits — and they were mulling a “rolling strike,” in which teachers in a few counties would walk out each day.

“You don’t want to do that,” Donnie Ellis, her husband, said. As a veteran of strip mines and the intense labor conflicts that often came with them, he knew what made some strikes succeed and others crumble.

“It’s got to be all-in or nothing,” he said.

It has definitely been all-in in West Virginia. For seven days now, teachers have refused to work in all 55 counties, shutting down every school in the state.

Every school day since last Thursday, thousands of red- and black-clad teachers, bus drivers and cooks have descended on Charleston to fill the halls of the State Capitol, chanting and singing defiantly in one of the few statewide teachers’ strikes in American history.

On Saturday, teachers and superintendents crowded back into the Capitol, where the Senate Finance Committee was expected to consider a 5 percent pay raise, which has support from the governor and the Republican-controlled House.

Senate leadership had previously suggested using revenue that would be set aside for a pay raise to shore up the public employees’ much-criticized health insurance plan. But striking teachers are adamant that they want both matters addressed.

The teachers disregarded their own union leaders’ advice to return to work earlier this week, opting instead for a thunderous showdown with members of the state’s increasingly conservative leadership. The direction in the next few days is anyone’s guess.

“If there’s no deal,” said Katrina Minney, 44, a high school English teacher in Kanawha County, “we’re not going back.”

Frustration at the state of pay and health insurance — in addition to proposed changes to rules governing hiring, firing and the payment of union dues — had been building for a while.

Smaller walkouts began in early February, organized by the sons and daughters of coal miners who had stood on the picket lines themselves.

“When I was in diapers, he was involved in a mine strike,” Justin Endicott, 34, a fourth-grade teacher in Mingo County, said of his father.

“Southern West Virginia’s often forgotten, and if we were not loud, we would be completely forgotten,” said Mr. Endicott, who traveled to Charleston on Feb. 2 with teachers from neighboring counties to take part in the first of the school walkouts.

Public employee unions are on their last legs.  Membership is down, more states are passing union-busting legislation, Trump has all but dismantled the NLRB, and the Supreme Court is expected to soon rule on the end of fair-share requirements.

That's why this strike is especially important, because it could basically be the last major public employee union strike in America.

Here's hoping I'm wrong about that.

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