West Virginia teachers win big after historic strike
After joining together in the longest strike in the state’s history, teachers and school support staff in West Virginia, USA have won a significant 5% wage increase.
The historic nine day strike was the first state-wide work stoppage since 1990.
Due to the actions of 34,000 workers from three unions — American Federation of Teachers - West Virginia, West Virginia Education Association, and West Virginia School Service Personnel Association — the state’s Governor Jim Justice passed a law which granted a 5% wage increase.
Teachers in West Virginia are among the lowest paid in the USA, a key factor which prompted the strike.
Teachers progress through a yearly salary scale, requiring 35 years' experience to reach the top step. A bachelor degree qualified teacher would be paid a minimum of $53,484 at the top step of the salary scale.
The pay rise of 5% won by union members is signficantly more than the wage offer that preceded the strike, which was just 1%.
The law also has flow-on effects as it applies to all public sector workers, meaning that many more employees benefit from the pay rise.
As a result of the strike, workers have also won agreement from the Governor that any moves to fund charter schools, strip teachers of their seniority, or reduce or remove the deduction of union dues from their wages would be vetoed.
Another key victory was the creation of a task force on health care with guaranteed representation from the three unions — restoring workers’ right to govern their own health care.
The strike has also had a positive effect on teachers in other American states that have been empowered to unionise and win better outcomes for workers.
IEUA-QNT Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Paul Giles said workers from the respective teacher and school support staff unions were to be commended for their remarkable stand.
“These workers faced an incredible task, particularly in a country where union activity is often suppressed, but it was clear that they had the resolve necessary to win,” Mr Giles said.
“Inspiration can easily be taken from the outcome of this case; workers can achieve almost anything when they work together collectively.”
Mr Giles said it was important to rebuild the freedom and ability of unions in Australia to engage in strike action where it is justified.
“Currently, Australia has some of the most restrictive industrial laws around strike action, making it difficult for union members to have their voice heard,” Mr Giles said.
“It is also far too easy for employers to avoid bargaining with staff, cancel collective agreements and attack hard-won working conditions.
“It’s time to change the rules and restore a fair balance of power back to workers.”
The Australian union movement has launched the Change the Rules campaign to build a fairer industrial landscape and empower workers to defend and enhance their working conditions.
Read more about why we need to Change the Rules at www.changetherules.org.au
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