UPDATE: Teacher, state employee work stoppage to continue Monday

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WOOD COUNTY, W.Va. (WTAP) - Update: 2/23/2018 5:11 P.M.

The West Virginia Education Association and Federation of Teachers says work stoppages by teachers and other state employees will continue into a third day Monday.

The organizations made that announcement in a statement issued late Friday afternoon.

The heads of both organizations say the West Virginia Legislature has not responded to its calls for a higher pay raise and changes to the state's insurance program.

Once again, while teachers rallied in Charleston Friday, informational pickets continued at five Wood County school sites.

And they believe the public is supporting their efforts.

"We are humbled by the outpouring of support we've gotten from Wood County," said Wood County Education Association President Bruce Boston. "We've had nothing but good remarks made at all of our picketing sites. People have asked questions. We're glad to hear all these positive things."

At the state capital, Senate President Mitch Carmichael was met with chants from teachers while trying to address them Friday.

Wood County Delegate John Kelly tells us the pay raise package approved Tuesday, and signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice Wednesday, was a compromise measure with the Senate.

He doubts more will be done before the end of the current legislative session in early March.

UPDATE: 2/23/2018:

Teachers in Wood County and across West Virginia are on the second day of a two-day work stoppage, as they seek higher pay and lower PEIA insurance premiums.

Update: 5:35 P.M. 2/22/2018

In Charleston, the Mid-Ohio Valley and across the state, teachers and state employees make their case for higher pay and a permanent solution on insurance benefits.

Wood County education employees Thursday got support from some of their own students-and from passing motorists who sounded their horns.

Teacher rallied at schools in Parkersburg and Vienna. And with school not in session, they were joined by some of their own students.

Two PHS students we spoke to said better pay and insurance for teachers benefits them as well.

"When it comes down to it," said Freshman Matthew Pearson, "this showing is about respect; respect for teachers, cooks, and other public employees we spend hours, days, even years of our lives with."

"It really worries us, how we see our state legislators in Charleston talking about how they want to treat the people we spend so much time of our day with," added Senior Chase Mayl. "It's important we use our democracy, and the advantages installed by it, to stand with our teachers and help them get what they want."

Local rallies also were held at Parkersburg South and Williamstown High Schools, along with Neale and Emerson Elementary Schools.

Teachers from those schools also attended rallies at the state capital in Charleston.

There, educators raised their voices to state lawmakers, who Tuesday night approved a pay raise package of an initial 2% next year. Gov. Jim Justice signed that measure Wednesday.

But teachers rallying in Charleston told our sister station, WSAZ, they need at least 5% raises to offset rising insurance costs.

"I think they just need to know that the money is out there if they wanna get it," said Kanawha County teacher Jay O'Neal. "I mean the legislature has many ways to raise this revenue. They just honestly have to stand up and do it."

But teachers are lobbying for more than pay hikes. They want a permanent fix in the state's insurance program.

That program has been frozen through June of 2019, in hopes legislators can begin work on improving the PEIA system.

UPDATE: 5:15 PM 2/22/18

Teachers and employees throughout Pleasants County were standing outside in the rain and cold since 8am this morning.

Teachers from St. Marys High School and Elementary School, Pleasants County Middle School and Belmont Elementary School all participated in today's work stoppage.

They said about 20 of them will be going down to Charleston throughout the two day walk-out, to participate in the strike at the capitol.

The walk-outs will continue Friday, lasting from 8 am to 4 pm.

St. Marys High School Counselor, Susan Travers, explains why teachers are going on strike and what they hope come out of it.
“Teachers would much rather be in the high school, or rather be in school than standing here in the picket lines and down in Charleston. But there are some things that the legislator is trying to take away from us and things that we need fixed. We need PEIA fixed. We need insurance that is actually going to do something for us and our families. It’s not all about the money.”

Teachers say they have seen many in support of them either by the honking of car horns or by businesses donating food and drinks.

Day one of a planned two-day work stoppage by West Virginia teachers is underway, with pickets outside most Mid-Ohio Valley schools and the State Capitol in Charleston.

Schools in all 55 West Virginia counties are closed today because of the work stoppage.

In Wood County, workers set up pickets outside several schools Thursday morning, including Parkersburg, Parkersburg South and Williamstown high schools, and Emerson and Neale elementary schools.

In Pleasants County, teachers were also picketing at the site of the old St. Marys High School.

Greg Merritt, president of the Wood County American Federal of Teachers, said earlier this week that a group of local teachers also planned to attend Thursday's rally in Charleston.

Workers are protesting over low salaries and changes to public employee benefits that had been proposed.

Gov. Justice signed legislation on Monday giving teachers a pay increase, starting with a 2 percent increase next year.

In addition, the Public Employees Insurance Agency board delayed making changes in benefits for 17 months after Gov. Jim Justice announced the proposed freeze to allow lawmakers time to come up with a permanent fix.

The House of Delegates Finance Committee has approved a bill to transfer $29 million from the state's rainy-day fund to PEIA.

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