55 Counties Continue Protest

All 55 counties are protesting again today in response to Public Employees Insurance Agency issues, on the anniversary of the beginning of the 1990 teacher strike.

The House passed the 5 percent pay raise bill on Wednesday evening, but today the Senate voted to table it instead.

"I applaud the governor for setting abilities to fund money for the 5 percent for teachers, service personnel, and state troopers, but if we had the money, I’m not sure why it took so long to head off a walkout everybody knew was going to occur,” Sen. Mike Romano (D-12) said.

Early Thursday morning, Romano questioned early Thursday if the Republican leadership would allow the pay raise bill to pass. He alleged that the governor’s office and the Republican leadership will attempt to hand off blame by claiming the other side was the cause of the pay raise bill failing.

The 5 percent pay raise deal made Tuesday evening between Justice and Union leaders Christine Campbell (AFT) and Dale Lee (WVEA) does not include a fix for PEIA. Del. Patrick Martin (R-46) said the PEIA Task Force established by Justice will look at funding options, including privatizing it under one company, farming it to various companies with employees able to choose their insurance company, or finding the revenue to fund it.

The task force would be made up of the governor’s chief of staff, who serves as the chair of the task force, one current member of the Board of PEIA, two Republican members of the Senate, one Democrat member of the Senate, two Republicans from the House, one Democrat from the House, a representative of the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, a representative of West Virginia Educational Association, and five members who will serve at the will and pleasure of the governor.

Those members will be full-time public employees, two retired public employees, and seven members appointed at the Governor’s discretion.

The freeze for PEIA is in effect until July 1, 2019, but state employees said they want a permanent fix, not a freeze.

If the 5 percent pay raise is passed by the Senate, it will go into effect July 1 of this year.

Martin stressed that school employees and state troopers’ salaries are set by code and that is why there is a difference between their increase and other state employees who were granted a 3 percent raise.

The West Virginia Department of Education removed their map of school closings from their website, which some educators took as a way to suppress information between counties.

However, as of 3:30 p.m. a listing was available of school closings for Friday, with 20 counties already declared closed, including Lewis County.

Romano also expressed concerns that “teachers have lost almost 11 percent to inflation over the last four years without a raise, in addition to the more than 150 million in PEIA costs they are bearing.”

Martin questioned if there was a disconnect between state union leaders and local personnel.

"I’m hearing from teachers that PEIA is important, but union leaders want to keep the 5 percent pay raise,” he said in a phone interview.

Lewis County WVEA President Kim Bennett said they are continuing to fight for four things: pay increase, PEIA funding, seniority, and payroll deduction.

A prepared statement submitted to media outlets by Justice stated that seniority and payroll deductions were off the table for the rest of this session.

© 2018-The Weston Democrat

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