Employees of William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital joined in with teachers and other public employees in a rally on Wednesday, Feb. 28, to protest for better pay and affordable healthcare.
The crowd swelled in size from under 10 to over three dozen in the rally’s first hour as more Sharpe Hospital employees joined others at the base of Sharpe Hospital Road after their shifts were completed.
“After so many years of Manchin-era wage freezes, it is not clear why state leaders think such a meager increase can possibly make up for the erosion of income experienced by public workers in the last decade,” said Jamie Beaton, the president of the West Virginia Public Workers Union, UE Local 170, in a press release responding to the 3 percent pay raise for state workers proposed by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.
“At least they are not continuing a further decline of public employee compensation,” said Beaton.
The proposal is part of a deal that includes a 5 percent hike in wages for teachers.
Some teachers at the rally expressed concern over the fact that other state employees would be getting a smaller pay raise than they would under the deal.
“It’s dividing public employees, dividing teachers and education employees from the state workers. By giving state workers only three percent they totally divide us, and it tells them that we are more important than they are, and that’s not right,” said Robert L. Bland Middle School eighth grade science teacher Lee Barbo.
Beaton also addressed the failure of state leaders to address the long-term viability of the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) by Wednesday afternoon.
“Adequate funding of PEIA pased the current year threatens to undermine the healthcare of many thousands of state residents, and has prompted the largest strike of county school personnel in West Virginia history,” Beaton said. “What don’t the politicians understand about this crisis?”