CHARLESTON (Reuters) — West Virginia officials agreed on Tuesday to a deal ending a teachers strike by raising pay for all state workers by five per cent after more than a week of protests across the Appalachian state, the governor said.
More than 277,000 students were out of the classroom for nine school days as teachers pressed for higher salaries in West Virginia, where pay ranks near the bottom for U.S. teachers.
The West Virginia Education Association hailed the deal, saying on its Facebook page: "WE WON!"
"I stood rock solid on the 5 percent Teacher pay raise and delivered," Republican Governor Jim Justice said on Twitter. The state senate had approved just a 4 percent raise. The governor added that spending cuts made by his office would give all state employees the raise.
Teachers cheered and sang in the halls of the state capitol in Charleston after the pay raise was announced, images on CNN showed. West Virginia ranked 46th among the 50 U.S. states for average teacher pay last year at $45,783, according to the National Education Association.
Announcement of an accord came just ahead of a legislative conference committee meeting between lawmakers from the state's Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Senate to reconcile differing bills. The House had backed a five per cent increase, while the Senate favored four per cent.
Senate negotiator Craig Blair said his side would agree to the five per cent raise, which he said he thought was the biggest pay hike in West Virginia history.
"We've also done this without increasing any taxes at all. Now, there's going to be some pain," he said in the meeting, which was livestreamed. Blair said lawmakers would seek to cut state spending by $20 million, taking funds from general services and Medicaid.
Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, said by phone from West Virginia that the strike was indicative of the state's long history of labour activism as a coal-mining hub and of the planning that educators had done before walking out.
"When you are pushed to the brink, people will stand up and show up and they will fight for themselves and their families," she said.
In Oklahoma, teachers are weighing a possible walkout over budget cuts that have led to four-day school weeks in that state, and left teachers' average salaries there trailing those in West Virginia.
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