The work stoppage that has closed public schools in West Virginia will end Thursday, leaders of teacher and service personnel unions said after meeting with the governor.
The news came at a press conference on Tuesday, where Gov. Jim Justice announced a 3 percent pay increase for all state employees this year, with an additional 2 percent hike for those who work in education, including teachers and service personnel. However, it remains unknown whether leaders of the House and Senate will go along with the deal.
“I’ve talked to the president of the Senate and speaker of the House, and I’m very hopeful,” Justice said. “I think in all fairness to them they should speak. Let’s just give them time.”
The governor left the press conference early to coach a high school girls basketball team in a game.
Leaders of the American Federation of Teacher-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association said Wednesday will serve as a “cool down” period before teachers and service personnel return to the classroom.
They expressed optimism that the deal with the governor would become reality, but kept open the possibility of another strike.
“We reserve the right — we may have to call our people back out again,” WVEA President Dale Lee said, noting that the Legislature would still need to pass the proposed raises to satisfy demands.
Justice proposed paying for the salary increases by raising revenue estimates by $58 million for the next fiscal year. He cited expected revenue increases partly from President Trump’s tax plan, which passed earlier this year. Figures released earlier this month show collections for the state’s general revenue fund in January were $28.2 million, or 6.7 percent, short of estimates for the month. More than seven months into the current fiscal year, the state is 1 percent behind original estimates.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael said his chamber will take a hard look at the fiscal environment before agreeing to the salary increases, “while respecting and providing all the pay raises that are available to our public employees and teachers.”
Carmichael also said the reaction to the demands of the unions might have played too much of an influence on the deal.
“It feels like we’re perhaps reacting to pressure as opposed to properly managing the fiscal affairs of our state,” he said.
House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead indicated optimism about the governor’s proposed pay increase for teachers, service personnel and all other state workers, citing federal tax cuts for a rejuvenated state economy.
The work stoppage included demands for a long-term fix to the health insurance program for public employees. On that issue, Justice said he agreed to create a task force to study solutions.
The program’s finance board agreed last week to freeze proposed changes to the plan that would call for increases to premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs until July 2019. Legislation to address short and long term fixes to the insurance plan have yet to become final.