The Slatest

Striking West Virginia Teachers Want to Fix Their Failing Health Insurance System by Taxing Coal

Teachers rally outside the state Senate chambers at the Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, March 1, 2018.
Teachers at West Virginia’s Capitol building in Charleston on March 1. John Raby/AP Photo

The statewide teachers’ strike in West Virginia is now in its eighth day. Here’s the deal:

• Union representatives reached an agreement last week with Republican Gov. Jim Justice to raise salaries by 5 percent. But the agreement didn’t address the spiking health insurance costs that teachers have said are forcing them to effectively take annual pay cuts, and the pay-raise bill still hasn’t actually been passed into law. Last Thursday, then, as the New Republic explains here, the labor stoppage became a “wildcat” strike when teachers continued refusing to report to work despite their representatives’ agreement.

• There has been a push by some teachers—one endorsed by Justice, who happens to be a billionaire coal heir—to raise the state’s “severance tax” on oil and natural gas extraction in order to fund the state’s Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), which provides … yes, insurance to its public employees. As labor reporter Dave Jamieson documents in the Huffington Post, business taxes in West Virginia were cut significantly a decade ago with the support of former state governor—and current Democratic senator—Joe Manchin. Jamieson cites an analysis which says the cuts reduced the state’s annual revenue by $425 million.

• A legislative conference committee is set to meet at 4 p.m. Monday to discuss teacher salary raises, a scheduling decision that state Democrats have criticized for its lack of urgency, which seems like a fair point given the “every school in the state has been shut down for more than a week” issue. (Both chambers of the legislature are controlled by Republicans.) The stuff they were working on this morning must have been really important!

• As has been taking place since the strike began, teachers and supporters are massing in and outside the state capitol building. More than 3,700 people were reportedly inside the capitol as of this morning, and the local fire marshal is getting concerned.

And that’s what’s happening in West Virginia!