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West Virginia unions approve possible work action against education bill

Union leaders announce that West Virginia teachers and other public employees voted overwhelmingly to authorize a statewide work action if needed against complex education legislation making its way through the Legislature. (WCHS/WVAH)

About 200 people from three different West Virginia education unions met in Flatwoods Saturday afternoon. They met to report the results of a strike authorization vote that took place this past week on approving a work stoppage.

"Our educators across the state have overwhelmingly given the confidence of the three organizations to call a work action as needed during this fight for public education," West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said.

This past week the education reform bill known as Senate Bill 251 entered the House Education Committee where changes were made to limit charter schools and get rid of education savings accounts. It passed out of committee Friday night and will move to House Finance Committee next week.

But union leaders are still not satisfied.

AFT-West Virginia President and Kanawha County AFT President Fred Albert said they still have a long way to go.

"We're watching every day, every hour of this bill. We are staying in constant contact with one another and our members to decide what those next steps might be," Albert said.

With members gathered around the union leaders, they said educators are united and plan to be at two public House hearings on Monday.

28-year teacher and president of the Hancock County Education Association Melanie Donofe said despite being in the northern panhandle; they will be represented.

"I've already talked to a few people making the trek down," Donofe said. "Not for the 8 o'clock because we will have to leave at three in the morning to get here to be able to get into the capitol with security and all that. But for the 5:30 meeting, oh definitely."

It was the first time the three unions (AFT-WV, WVEA, and WVSSPA) called a strike authorization vote. The results were given behind closed doors, and union leaders did not release any specific numbers for the results. They only said it was an overwhelming approval.

WVSSPA Executive Director Joe White said they stand for and behind their students, who they want the best for.

"The overwhelming response we have from educators across this state is huge," White said.

Union leaders didn't set an exact day for a work stoppage they just approved that it could happen. They do plan to give families plenty of notice if they decide to take that route.

"We will make sure if we have to go to the point of a work stoppage we will provide food for the kids," Lee said. "Daycare for the kids, that we are making sure our kids are taken care of."

West Virginia teachers won 5 percent pay raises following a nine-day strike last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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