Opinion

March 2, 2018 - Volume 38 Issue 8

Commentary

  Opinion

“He that would make his own liberty secure,  must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”   -   Thomas Paine  (1737- 1809), English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary.

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By Hoppy Kercheval

After broadcasting three two-hour TalkLine shows from the State Capitol this week, my ears are still ringing.  The sounds of the chants and songs by thousands of striking school teachers and service workers have been echoing off the marble walls of the Capitol since last Thursday.

Regardless of whether you think the strikers are right or wrong, the show of force has been impressive. No one I have talked with, not even the union leaders, expected the strike to be this big or last this long.

The Capitol hallways, the south side steps, the House and Senate chamber galleries have served as the epicenters of the strike, but the demonstrations have also occurred in every county.  Teachers, bus drivers and maintenance workers have gathered in front of schools and on busy streets with their signs, encouraging supporters to honk as they drove by.

The strike has produced results.  Governor Jim Justice was so shaken by the dressing down he received by teachers during his three-city tour Monday that he immediately increased the pay raise and issued an executive order creating a task force with a timetable for providing a more lasting fix to the Public Employee Insurance Agency.

The House of Delegates made quick work of the pay bill, passing it 98-1—a vote total normally reserved for proclamations supporting motherhood and veterans. The Senate, however, is less enthusiastic.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael believes dedicating an additional $100 million to pay raises and PEIA next year is fiscally irresponsible, especially since $58 million of that magically appeared Tuesday when Justice announced he had newly revised estimates on the amount of tax money the state will bring in next year.

Instead, Carmichael has said he would rather dedicate the newly found money to PEIA.  That’s a critical issue that still needs to be worked out.

But back to the strike.  The teachers and service workers have gotten through to the policy makers.  They get it, but they cannot “fix” PEIA overnight. The challenges are just too big and too complicated.

The task force needs some time to gather information and come up with possible solutions. Teachers and service workers will have representatives on that task force, so those voices will be heard.

Teachers can certainly appreciate that will take some time.  They should consider how long it takes for their students to master difficult material.  Figuring out a better way forward on health insurance is far more challenging than Algebra II.

The legislation teachers believe is anti-union is off the table.  A significant pay raise has passed the House and is being pushed by the Governor.  Justice’s executive order has created a task force that will make recommendations on stabilizing health insurance.

The seven missed days of instruction are going to be made up later this school year, so apparently no pay days will be missed.

Teachers and service workers, you’ve made history. Your “55 Strong” movement has grabbed the state and its policy makers by the lapels and given them a robust shake.  But don’t turn that shake into an assault on education.

It’s time to go back to work.

Used by permission. Published by MetroNews March 2, 2018.

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By Hoppy Kercheval

The word I have used most often over the last week when talking about the nature of the strike by teachers and service workers is “organic.” Of course the leaders of the three unions involved have been integral in this work stoppage, but this has always been a more bottom-up movement.

Absolute confirmation of that came yesterday when teachers and service workers showed up en masse at the Capitol even though their union leaders, along with Governor Jim Justice, had reported a settlement the night before.

The assumption from the top was the strikers would be pleased with a larger pay raise—five percent—and the promise of a seat-at-the-table on a task force that will craft long-term solutions to PEIA.

Wednesday was supposed to be a “cooling off” day, but it was hotter than ever under the Capitol Dome. The picketers who showed up were really mad—mad at the Governor, mad at legislators and even mad at their own union leaders.

The strikers said all along that PEIA was their main issue, but the so-called settlement included only a vague verbal reference to a long-term solution. AFT-WV sought to clarify that later in the day Wednesday.

“A PEIA Task Force will be formed to develop a long-term fix for PEIA funding. Stakeholders will include teachers, service personnel, state employees, legislators and representatives from PEIA and the Governor’s office. The Task Force will finalize the long-term funding solution by October 2018,” AFT-WV said.

However, that plan is based on trust and it’s evident these strikers are hesitant to put their faith in promises.

All this reminds me of other bottom-up movements lately: The Tea Party, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, to name a few. Members of these movements found commonality and banded together through social media.  The Drain the Swamp movement has a leader in Donald Trump, but it is still an amalgamation of people who believed the traditional politicians did not speak for them.

They created their own waves and often those who tried to bring them back in line were reduced to shoveling sand toward the ocean.

These amorphous organizations distrust the traditional avenues of power and established institutions. They generate their own energy that fuels their activism. That makes them hard to control and difficult to predict.

Perhaps the teacher movement will be short lived, lasting only long enough to see through to the end their fight over healthcare benefits and the more nebulous issue of greater respect for teachers.

But it is also possible that the teachers will embrace their new found power and coalesce into a movement that can effect change on more than just one issue.

Used by permission. Published by MetroNews March 1, 2018.