West Virginia Teacher Strike Continues

Mar 4, 2018
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

A teacher's strike in West Virginia continues after last night's vote in the state Senate. Lawmakers there voted to cut the proposed raise for teachers in the state from 5 to 4 percent. The raise was initially put forth by the state's Republican governor, but teachers have insisted on a legislative guarantee before they return to work. Talking to us this morning is Jessica Salfia. She's an English teacher at Spring Mills High School in Berkeley County. Good morning.

JESSICA SALFIA: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So why did teachers ask for what you're calling a legislative guarantee?

SALFIA: Well, I think that there's just a level of trust that does not exist right now. Things have changed so quickly. And, I mean, even our governor's position on Tuesday of this week, and this has just been a roller coaster ride in West Virginia. The governor held a series of town halls, and I attended the one at Spring Mills High School. And at the end of that town hall, I frankly felt deflated.

I mean, we continued to hear, there's nothing we can do. There's nothing we can do. There's nothing we can do. And then, that night, he got to Charleston and held a press conference and said, let's give them 5 percent. So the narrative continues to change from every branch of the legislature right now. And I think teachers just are unwilling to return until we see something concrete and in writing. Promises aren't cutting it right now.

MONTAGNE: What is going on there? The Senate actually did approve that 5 percent raise, but then what? They made a mistake. What happened?

SALFIA: They just messed up. Apparently, they need more teachers on staff in the Senate to do some proofreading and editing because they said last night - and I listened to the finance committee meeting and then watched as they decided to pass the 4 percent for all state workers, which is not what a lot of teachers want. But, you know, many of us were in this not just for us but to ensure that all state workers received either adequately funded health care or a significant enough pay raise to address those health care needs.

So I believe most of us are in it to hold out for the 5 percent, but I appreciated that many of them were trying to address state workers. I feel like that that's some headway we made in getting all state workers a little bit of a bump.

So they decided to knock it to 4 percent. Now, we have been told by our governor to not return to work for anything less than 5. The governor of our state said, hold out until you get 5. Many of us felt deflated. And then the House released a statement that said the Senate accidentally sent us the wrong bill. The Senate accidentally sent us the bill that has the language for 5 percent in it.

MONTAGNE: Interestingly, you're in coal country there in Berkeley County, where, back in the early 20th century, coal miners fought one of the biggest labor uprisings in U.S. history. So as teachers, I'm wondering, are you taking, in a way, a history lesson from the local history and culture of union protests?

SALFIA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the women - and make no mistake. This is a labor movement led mostly by women. I mean, the majority of teachers in America are women. And so the women standing on the frontlines of this movement right now are the granddaughters and the daughters of coal miners. And they have watched their fathers and their grandfathers stand up for worker's rights. And, I mean, it's just really inspiring to see that happening across the state.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for talking with us.

SALFIA: Yeah. Thank you for calling me.

MONTAGNE: That's high school English teacher Jessica Salfia in Berkeley County, W. Va.

(SOUNDBITE OF PATTY LARKIN SONG, “TRAVELLING ALONE”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.