West Virginia governor announces deal to end teachers’ strike

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s governor said Tuesday that teachers and educators will get a 5 percent pay raise, and that striking teachers will return to work on Thursday.

The deal came on the fourth day of a strike by West Virginia teachers, as thousands of people again descended on the state Capitol to protest poor wages.

"My commitment to education has been consistent from day one," Gov. Jim Justice said on Twitter. He said that all other state employees would get a 3 percent raise this year.

A teachers' group said on Facebook that "Schools are called off on Wednesday for a cooling off period and will resume on Thursday."

"The long and the short of it is, now we have concluded with at least as far as an agreement that we can possibly conclude, that our teachers will go back to work on Thursday," Justice said at a press conference. "Tomorrow, we'll use tomorrow as like a cooling off day because we’ve already got some schools that have been canceled."

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Statewide teacher strike in West Virginia, Kentucky
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Statewide teacher strike in West Virginia, Kentucky
Thousands of Kentucky school teachers marched Monday, April 2, 2018 from the Kentucky Education Association's headquarters to the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. to protest legislative changes to their pensions and education cuts. Public schools in all 120 Kentucky counties were closed Monday, either to join in the protest or because of spring break. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
Thousands of Kentucky school teachers marched Monday, April 2, 2018 from the Kentucky Education Association's headquarters to the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. to protest legislative changes to their pensions and education cuts. Public schools in all 120 Kentucky counties were closed Monday, either to join in the protest or because of spring break. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
Thousands of Kentucky teachers rallied at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. on Monday, April 2, 2018. (Alex Slitz/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: An Oklahoma teacher walks the picket line at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: Ella Roach holds a protest sign in support of her teacher, Kimberly Cox, during a rally at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: Conner McElveen, an Oklahoma City teacher, holds a protest sign about the lacking of taxation on the oil industry, at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
Teachers and demonstrators hold signs during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Teachers and demonstrators gather during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Teachers and demonstrators hold signs during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Teachers and demonstrators hold signs and chant during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Striking teachers stand on a small picket line outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators hold a sign reading '#55United' during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Striking school workers hold signs and chant inside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but hey didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Support and SOLIDARITY for the underpaid teachers of West Virginia who are fighting for higher wages at a time when… https://t.co/g0kzb2psXI
West Virginia's public schools are closed for a third day today after nearly 20,000 public school teachers walked o… https://t.co/vrIPUX2jIW
All 680 public schools in West Virginia are closed. Here's why: https://t.co/k8PImg4xDr https://t.co/9oxzlV92Bk
BREAKING: West Virginia teachers still aren’t going back to work. Union leaders just announced that the strike will… https://t.co/3npM2CL0X5
Teachers in West Virginia are still feeding their students during an expected two-day strike https://t.co/H58LZ1eh7N https://t.co/FuRRmTOuAR
I’m always shocked how little teachers are paid. Don’t our representatives know that teachers have one of the harde… https://t.co/h9cqyXk9En
West Virginia teachers are making sure their students get fed while they're on strike https://t.co/wtywBsmquu
Organizers say teachers in West Virginia are so poorly paid that some must take second jobs to make ends meet https://t.co/Wryo0CEsSl
A teacher's strike is keeping public schools closed for a third day in West Virginia. https://t.co/uVDGQQnepY
As of Sunday, all 55 counties in West Virginia had preemptively called off school for today. https://t.co/zBQGviPTd1
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: A teacher holds a protest sign at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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On Tuesday a large crowd outside the state Senate chamber loudly chanted slogans — including "United we stand!" and "Where is justice?" — and waved homemade posters as a walkout that began last Thursday escalated.

"We are fed up. Enough is enough," said Jamie Heflin, 38, a single mother who teaches at Lenore K-8 School in Williamson. "We're tired of the disrespect."

The four-day strike had left more than a quarter of a million students out of class in the 55 counties across the state, rattling some officials.

"Work stoppages by public employees are not lawful in West Virginia and will have a negative impact on student instruction and classroom time," West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine said in a statement last week.

"I encourage our educators to advocate for the benefits they deserve, but to seek courses of action that have the least possible disruption for our students."

In 2016, the average salary for West Virginia teachers ranked 48th in the nation, according to data compiled by the National Education Association. The organizers of the protests have said many teachers are forced to take second jobs just to make ends meet.

"We can't be doing our jobs for less and less and less money," said Carmen Soltesz, 37, a middle school social studies teacher in Williamson who has been on the job for a decade.

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Millennials' salaries across the US
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Millennials' salaries across the US

Median personal income for all employees: $31,100

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $44,000

Median income for millennials: $27,500

Median personal income for all employees: $33,000

Median income for millennials: $20,800

Median personal income for all employees: $30,000

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $35,000

Median income for millennials: $21,900

Median personal income for all employees: $38,000

Median income for millennials: $24,000

Median personal income for all employees: $44,000

Median income for millennials: $23,300

Median personal income for all employees: $38,000

Median income for millennials: $25,000

Median personal income for all employees: $55,000

Median income for millennials: $43,000

Median personal income for all employees: $30,000

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $33,000

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $37,000

Median income for millennials: $25,900

Median personal income for all employees: $30,000

Median income for millennials: $19,000

Median personal income for all employees: $37,500

Median income for millennials: $23,000

Median personal income for all employees: $33,000

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $35,000

Median income for millennials: $23,000

Median personal income for all employees: $35,000

Median income for millennials: $21,000

Median personal income for all employees: $31,000

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $33,000

Median income for millennials: $22,000

Median personal income for all employees: $33,400

Median income for millennials: $19,200

Median personal income for all employees: $45,000

Median income for millennials: $26,000

Median personal income for all employees: $44,000

Median income for millennials: $25,000

Median personal income for all employees: $33,700

Median income for millennials: $19,300

Median personal income for all employees: $39,000

Median income for millennials: $24,000

Median personal income for all employees: $30,000

Median income for millennials: $19,400

Median personal income for all employees: $32,900

Median income for millennials: $20,000

            

Median personal income for all employees: $30,000

Median income for millennials: $18,000

Median personal income for all employees: $34,400

Median income for millennials: $23,000

Median personal income for all employees: $33,000

Median income for millennials: $24,000

Median personal income for all employees: $40,000

Median income for millennials: $21,000

Median personal income for all employees: $44,000

Median income for millennials: $25,000

Median personal income for all employees: $30,000

Median income for millennials: $19,200

Median personal income for all employees: $40,000

Median income for millennials: $25,000

Median personal income for all employees: $31,900

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $36,000

Median income for millennials: $25,000

Median personal income for all employees: $35,000

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $32,000

Median income for millennials: $22,000

Median personal income for all employees: $32,000

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $36,000

Median income for millennials: $23,400

Median personal income for all employees: $37,200

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $30,000

Median income for millennials: $19,700

Median personal income for all employees: $32,200

Median income for millennials: $21,000

Median personal income for all employees: $31,000

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $34,000

Median income for millennials: $22,000

Median personal income for all employees: $31,000

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $35,500

Median income for millennials: $24,000

Median personal income for all employees: $40,000

Median income for millennials: $25,000

Median personal income for all employees: $40,000

Median income for millennials: $24,000

Median personal income for all employees: $31,000

Median income for millennials: $19,000

Median personal income for all employees: $35,000

Median income for millennials: $20,000

Median personal income for all employees: $37,000

Median income for millennials: $24,400

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The strike began a day after Justice signed legislation giving teachers and some other state employees a 4 percent raise over three years. They would receive a 2 percent raise starting in July, followed by a 1 percent increase in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, according to a news release.

That legislation has been sharply criticized by teachers' unions and their members, who say the pay increases are too stingy. The raises, they say, would not cover cost-of-living spikes and the rising cost of health care.

"The proposed raise ... doesn't even keep us up with other states," said Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association."

Amid the strike, food banks have helped provide lunches to students who rely on school meals, according to local reports. And despite any inconveniences, Lee insisted the teachers had "community support."

"You see families dropping off water, food, pizzas," Lee said. "It's like that all over the state."

Justice credited a 6th-grader with helping to change his thinking on the issue. He said he was explaining tourist investment to the boy Monday and the child said, "Wouldn’t it be an investment to invest in smart teachers that would make me smart, and then I could, in turn, turn around and do smart good things for our state?"

"He’s right. And to be perfectly honest, in a lot of ways I was looking at this maybe not correctly,” Justice said. The governor said he "went home and I thought a lot about it."

Justice said he raised the revenue estimate for the state. He said that a task force would begin looking at the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency, to "try to look for solutions that are a permanent fix" to the system.

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