Votes slated on work stoppage

Photo by Steven Allen Adams American Federation of Teachers-WV representative Chris Mallory, middle, flanked by Executive Director Joe White of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, left, and West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee, right, announce plans for a statewide vote to authorize a possible work stoppage.

CHARLESTON — Three unions representing teachers and school service personnel in West Virginia Friday said they’re the piece in place for a work stoppage in the future, but would not say what the triggers causing a work stoppage would be.

Representatives of the West Virginia Education Association, the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, held a press conference Friday morning at the Capitol in Charleston where they announced ballots will be sent next week to union and non-union teachers and school service personnel in every county to vote to authorize union leaders to call a work stoppage should circumstances surround Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill, merit such an action.

Union officials would have the power to determine the timing of any possible work stoppage.

“We are proud to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters,” Chris Mallory, political director of AFT-WV. “Our message is simple: this coordination is a direct response to the attack and retaliation of the Senate majority ramming this education bill down our throats. Our mobilization is simply an effort to prepare our members in the event an action is warranted.”

SB 451, the education omnibus bill, includes pay raises for teacher and school service personnel, tax credits for teachers, bonuses for teachers who take math courses and the ability to bank sick leave. Controversial provisions include creating public charter schools, allowing for education savings accounts, differential pay between teachers in certain subjects and docking pay and prohibiting extracurricular activities during work stoppages.

“We stand here today in unity with our colleagues in the education realm,” Joe White, executive director of the WVSSPA, said. “We are calling for a statewide unified vote to authorize action. This request is not being taken lightly. It’s being taken very seriously. With hundreds of our members emailing and calling us, that is where we stand today.”

The Senate debated amendments Friday to the bill, which will be up for passage on Monday before heading to the House of Delegates. The bill was first introduced Jan. 24, passed the Senate Education Committee the next day and was approved Thursday by the Committee of the Whole on Thursday.

“We are at this point again because of the actions of the Senate and particularly the Senate Republican leadership,” said Dale Lee, president of the WVEA. “Their insistence of ramrodding this anti-employee, anti-public education school bill by the Senate is shameful. The speed at which the bill has moved, and the cloak-and-dagger methods used to ensure that it passed and the lack of transparency is amazing to everyone in the state.”

It will be up to each individual county next week to hold the votes. Even if the majority of counties give the state union leadership the power to call a work stoppage, there is no guarantee a work stoppage will occur. When asked what the trigger for would be striking, officials were vague.

“I think it’s very important we hear from the membership exactly where their line is in the sand,” White said. “The biggest issue is we feel each item of this bill should stand on its own merit. The omnibus bill is not the best way to go.”

“We are member-driven,” Mallory said. “We will respond to what our members tell us they need and what they want. That trigger is up to our membership. A trigger cannot just come from us. We’re not pulling that trigger haphazardly.”