Teachers in West Virginia participated in a third day of strikes on Monday to demand higher salaries and better benefits, closing every public school in the state’s 55 counties and impacting nearly 277,000 students. This is the first ever state-wide teacher walk out.

West Virginia pays its teachers one of the lowest amounts in the country. They make on average $45,622, the third lowest in the U.S., compared to a national average of $58,353. Teachers say they are forced to go on government assistance just to feed their families.

“We collected on the (Women’s, Infants and Children food and nutrition service program), so that’s how low teacher pay is,” said teacher Jacob Fertig. “There were a lot of times where we got to choose between groceries and health coverage for my family. This isn’t just an issue of a bunch of people squabbling over a little bit of insurance benefits or a little bit of pay—we are really in a bad place here as far as that stuff goes.”

Teachers began their strike on Thursday of last week, outraged over the meager 2 percent raise the Governor signed into law while claiming it was the “responsible” option.  Teachers say that 2 percent raise is what is needed just to cover their rising healthcare costs through the state’s Public Employee Insurance Agency, the health insurance provider for all state employees.

In order to ensure that students who rely on school-provided lunches do not go hungry, teachers prepared for the walk-out by handing out food to students ahead of time. Makeshift childcare centers were also arranged at churches and community centers.

The third day of protests comes as the Supreme Court hears one of the most important labor rights cases of the 21st century. The decision in Janus v. AFSCME will determine whether or not public sector unions can require public employees to pay “fair share fees” since all benefit from collective bargaining.

Media Resources: Time 2/26/18; CNN 2/26/18

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