Mingo County teachers plan walkout to protest PEIA changes

January 31, 2018 GMT

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. - Teachers and staff in Mingo County have decided to hold a one-day walkout next week.

They want to show disapproval for proposed changes to health insurance benefits, a change in seniority rights and a lack of raises, said Brandon Wolford, a special-education teacher at Lenore PreK-8. Approximately 88 percent of staff in the county, including teachers, counselors and other service personnel, voted to take action against the proposed changes by the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency and the state Legislature, he said.

Wolford said the exact date of the walkout will be kept secret, but would be one day next week. Teachers won’t show up for work that day and instead will attend planned rallies at the state Capitol or at the Mingo County Courthouse, he said.

“They are trying to change our insurance premiums and won’t tell us how much, and then they are trying to give us a 1 percent raise,” he said. “It’s an insult after all the rising costs they are trying to slap on us.”

Wolford said he is opposed to Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed changes to PEIA benefits that would increase or decrease insurance premiums based on meeting certain health goals.

He said a majority of the county’s teachers are opposed to changes in seniority rights that would give principals power to hire who they want if positions get shuffled around. As of now, the teacher with the most seniority has the right to remain employed if his or her position got consolidated or moved around, Wolford said.

This would make it unfair for teachers who have served a long time and make all hiring decisions “more political,” he said.

Wolford also said a proposed 1 percent raise by the Legislature is an insult to teachers with degrees who work for minimum wage.

“West Virginia is 48th in the nation when it comes to pay for teachers,” he said. “If they are not going to appease us, we are walking out.”

Wolford said he is being joined by teachers and staff in Logan and Wyoming counties, which also voted to take action to show their displeasure.

Meanwhile, parents are planning their own rallies to show support of the teachers and staff. Parents will hold up signs during morning drop-offs Wednesday, Jan. 31, at Williamson PreK-8, Burch PreK-8, Lenore PreK-8 and Gilbert Elementary School, said Sabrina Rose Grace, a parent of two schoolchildren in the county. Grace serves on the Mingo County Board of Education, but said she is organizing “solidarity rallies” as a private citizen and not on behalf of the board.

“We want to show them that us parents support them in this fight they are in against PEIA and, sadly, our state-level government,” she said.

Grace said she intends to hold a sign that reads, “You can’t put teachers first when you put public education last.”

Travis Crum is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. He may be reached by phone at 304-236-6497.