Mainstream media organizations haven't devoted much time to covering it, but the West Virginia teachers' strike is undoubtedly one of the most important stories unfolding today in the US - if only because it exposes the consequences of unsustainable public spending. As debt servicing and expensive employee benefits eat away at budgets, the battles over the crumbs that remain will inevitably tear at the fabric of America's social order.
In West Virginia, it's starting with the schools - W.Va. school teachers are among the lowest paid in the country - but it could just as easily be the fire department or the police who decide to strike.
For those who haven't been following, about 20,000 teachers have been on strike since Feb. 22, keeping 300,000 students out of the classroom. Teachers' unions have vowed their members must receive a 5% pay hike before returning to work.
The West Virginia legislature argued for hours on Saturday, but the two Republican-controlled chambers remained at an impasse. A bill negotiated between West Virginia's recently-converted Republican Gov. Jim Justice and the state's union leaders managed to pass the House, but the Senate could only agree on a 4% wage hike.
Per CNN, Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael and other legislators have argued the state cannot afford a raise large enough to end the walkout.
The debate took a farcical turn last night, when the Senate "accidentally" passed the 5% wage hike, before repealing it - over the objections of Democratic leaders, who cheered the mistake and supported making it permanent, per the Hill.
So, get this. Delegates of both parties, plus Senate Dems are saying the Senate accidentally passed the bill with the House version language and pay scales pic.twitter.com/H5mciu68Vi— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) March 4, 2018
Unless a last-minute agreement is reached on Sunday - an outcome that's possible, but unlikely - the strike will enter its eighth day on Monday. Teachers were initially motivated to strike by high health-care costs and years without a raise.
Gov. Justice urged the Senate to approve the plan he worked out with the unions.
Mistakes and differences aside, we've got to get our kids back to school. While everyone is focused on the mistakes, my focus is solely on getting our children back to school. It's time to quit playing politics and get our kids back in school.— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) March 4, 2018
But it appears the egos of legislative leaders, who are bucking both the governor and the unions, will stand in the way of a deal at least for the time being...
Democrats called on their Republican colleagues to approve a deal negotiated by Gov. Justice and the unions for a 5 percent pay hike.
"We're all caught up in our egos," said Democratic Sen. Douglas Facemire of Sutton, reports the Chicago Tribune. He noted the impact of the impasse on students, including those who depend on schools for their meals. "For 1 percent we're going to let kids go hungry," he said, per Fox
Justice has said he prefers a 5% pay increase for teachers and would like to negotiate the larger increase for all of the state’s public employees as well.