West Virginia lawmakers reach a deal granting teachers a 5 percent pay raise

Elham Khatami

Elham Khatami Associate Editor, Think Progress

After nine school days of strikes, West Virginia lawmakers reached a deal Tuesday to provide a 5 percent pay increase to teachers, with both chambers of the state legislature voting unanimously to pass the agreement.

The deal gives a 5 percent pay raise to all state employees, including teachers. The state House and Senate agreed to the compromise deal, after days of a legislative standoff regarding the pay raise percentage. Union leaders made it clear that teachers would not return to work without a 5 percent raise.

The legislature voted on the agreement on Tuesday to ensure teachers can return to school on Wednesday. Gov. Jim Justice (R) is expected to sign the deal into law on Tuesday. 

West Virginia teachers began the statewide strike on Feb. 22 — the first in almost 30 years — after Gov. Justice signed a 2 percent salary increase for teachers for the next fiscal year, and a 1 percent increase for the following two fiscal years. The move outraged tens of thousands of teachers, who have also been demanding better health benefits. West Virginia teachers are among the country’s most poorly paid, with teacher salaries ranked at 48th in the nation.  

Regarding health benefits, teachers have expressed concerns about the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) and unaffordable premium increases, calling for a permanent fix. Last week, in a separate decision, Gov. Justice agreed to create a task force to address the problem.

Outside the state legislature Tuesday morning, teachers celebrated the deal and demanded that both chambers pass the agreement.

According to the Associated Press, funding for the pay raises will come from deep cuts to other areas of the state budget, including Medicaid, as lawmakers aim to slash state spending by $20 million.

Sen. Ryan Ferns (R) said lawmakers agreed to a list of cuts for the Division of Tourism, Department of Commerce, the Division of Highways and General Services, The State Journal reported.

“What ever shortage there is, there will likely be some cuts to medical services as well,” Ferns said.

Prior to the Senate vote on Tuesday, Sen. Michael J. Romano (D) called the budget cuts “shocking”, according to Brad McElhinny of the Metro News:

Karnes: "Hard decisions have to be made, and we've been willing to make them on this end of the Capitol building." — Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) March 6, 2018

“That is not right,” Romano added.

West Virginia is one of the country’s poorest states, ranked at 43 in the nation, with roughly 18 percent of people living below the poverty rate and 13.2 percent of people under age 65 and below 138 percent of the poverty line lacking health insurance. Cuts to Medicaid and other health services will likely hit those individuals the hardest.

This story has been updated to reflect the latest developments.

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Reposted from Think Progress

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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