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It's The 9th Day Of West Virginia's Teachers Strike

Mar 6, 2018
Originally published on March 6, 2018 5:51 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's the latest on the teachers strike in West Virginia entering its ninth school day. Thousands of teachers and school service staff are demanding a 5 percent increase in pay. Now, the governor of West Virginia gave it to them last week. But some members of the state Senate went bargain hunting, went for 4 percent, and so the strike continues. And reporter Jake Zuckerman is covering it for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He's on Skype. Good morning.

JAKE ZUCKERMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Any progress overnight?

ZUCKERMAN: Well, last we heard, a conference committee between the House and Senate, who is working on differences between the 5 percent pay raise deal for teachers and school service personnel versus the Senate's plan of a 4 percent pay raise - they haven't found a compromise yet, although the Senate majority leader told us there is some sort of a compromise coming from Senate Republicans, though he was not ready to say exactly what that compromise entails. This conference committee will meet again this morning at 9:00 a.m. So we're looking forward to seeing what happens there.

INSKEEP: Although we should mention, we heard from a teachers union representative yesterday on the program who's said well, the deal was 5 percent. There's no compromise. The deal is 5 percent.

ZUCKERMAN: That's correct. We spoke with Dale Lee, who works for the West Virginia branch of the NEA, which is the WVEA here. And he made it clear there's not going to be any budging below 5 percent - 4.9 won't do it, 4.95 won't do it. The teachers want 5 percent, or it seems like the strike will continue.

INSKEEP: So what's it like to be in West Virginia with well over 200,000 kids out of school? Are people, I don't know, bringing their kids to work there at your newspaper, for example?

ZUCKERMAN: Well, I'm working out of the Capitol right now, and I can tell you yesterday we had more than 6,000 people enter the Capitol. At one point, they actually closed off the public entrances because the building was so overwhelmed. I mean, this is - these are big, thick marble walls and big, thick wooden doors. And in any of the chambers, you could hear the steady roar from teachers out in the hallways - different chants of do your job, do your job or we're not leaving until we get our 5 percent - different iterations of that. It really is a wild place to be right now.

INSKEEP: So the protests are there. The teachers are there. What about the students across the state? What are they doing with the time?

ZUCKERMAN: Well, that's the thing. And that's been a real hardship for parents. You know, I think, at first there was this jubilation, this sort of snow day-esque (ph) feeling of woo-hoo, no school. But I think students are starting to get restless. That's the feeling we're starting to get from the parents. And meanwhile, it's a real hardship on the parents to find something to do with the kids while they're at work. A lot of parents have had to trade off, if there are two parents in the household, between taking days off from work, taking their kids to work, taking leaves from work to handle their kids. And it's tough. And everyone seems to be really struggling with that.

INSKEEP: At some point you'd have to be trying to measure the economic cost. I'm sure it is a measurable economic cost of lost activity of so many parents juggling so many lives.

ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I wish I had those numbers. But I do not.

INSKEEP: But you do have a sense of impatience across the state.

ZUCKERMAN: Yes. And I think there's a lot of empathy with the teachers. And no one wants to see teachers paid what they are. No one wants to be the 48th lowest paid state as far as teachers go. But at the same time, no one wants their kids out of school. And nine school days out is a lot of school days to not be in school.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll see if today is the day or not. Jake Zuckerman of the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Thanks very much.

ZUCKERMAN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: He is in Charleston, W. Va.

(SOUNDITE OF NATE SMITH'S "SPIRACLES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.