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    Demonstrators at Chicago's Rally for Workers' Rights holding signs in support of the West Virginia teachers strike. Feb. 24, 2018. | Photo: facebook.com/charles.clarke

Published 26 February 2018

Since Thursday over 22,000 West Virginia educators have been marching on Charleston's legislative building demanding better salaries and healthcare protection.

"We had a meeting with House and Senate leadership this morning, making some progress," Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association told teachers gathered in Charleston.  

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Lee didn't provide details on what kind of progress was made during talks today with state officials regarding West Virginia's statewide public school strikes, which school unions say will continue tomorrow.

Since Thursday an estimated 22,000 West Virginia teachers, administrators and school staff have been marching on Charleston's legislative building demanding better salaries and healthcare protection.

The strike was ignited as state legislators and governor Jim Justice (R) passed a law last week to increase teacher wages by two percent for the 2018–19 school year and one percent for the following two years. Teachers say this amount is woefully inadequate.

"Our salaries are not remotely competitive with anyone. We’re going to get slammed with insurance premiums," Kathy Morris, a teacher at Cabell Midland High School tells Weirton Daily Times.  

West Virginia ranks 48th in terms of teacher wages which average $45,622 per year, compared to New York’s yearly average salary US$79,152. The law did not fix their insurance premium problem educators say cuts heavily into their already low wages.

While school union officials say they have been in contact with state officials, no solution has been found to end the strike.

"All of our locals have been in direct communications with their county superintendents," Christine Campbell of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia tells NPR.

Teachers’ decision to strike is getting pushback from authorities in the conservative state.

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey called the walkout illegal, but up to individual counties to decide how to handle the situation.

"This is, in large measure, a county issue. They must decide whether they are going to declare this an illegal strike — as that is clear from law that it is (sic)."

Executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, Joe White countered Morrisey at today’s rally saying: "A lot of people are trying to tell us that what you are doing is illegal, but let me remind you what a group of coal miners many years ago -- they stood up against low wages and a lack of benefits, many were beaten, some were killed, but they did not silence their voice," he said.

"Your voice and your solidarity is making waves across this nation," added White.

The state superintendent of schools Steven Paine says that a decision of whether or not authorities will seek legal action against the educators will be discussed at tomorrow’s Board of Education meeting.

On Friday, West Virginia House Speaker Tim Armstead tried to assure strikers that their demands are being heard and convince them to return to the classrooms, for the students.

Armstead said in a written statement, "We in the House have heard loudly and clearly the message of our teachers, service personnel and state employees, and I don't believe it's necessary to continue this strike and keep our kids out of the classroom to draw attention to these issues."

Kathy Morris tells local reporters,“We really would’ve hoped we wouldn’t have to be back out here again (but) We’re prepared to do whatever we have to. … It depends how much (legislators) dig their heels in,” the West Virginia teacher says.

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