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A "Focused Attack on Teachers’ Unions" in WV Education Bill?

Sissonville English teacher Katrina Minney is not an officer with a teachers' union, but she did take part in last year's walkout. (Dan Heyman)
Sissonville English teacher Katrina Minney is not an officer with a teachers' union, but she did take part in last year's walkout. (Dan Heyman)
January 30, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - What critics call a union-busting provision in a huge, fast-moving education bill in the West Virginia Legislature has many saying it's revenge for last year's successful teachers' strike.

One part of omnibus Senate Bill 451 would make West Virginia teachers' unions get permission each year to deduct dues from every member's pay. So-called "paycheck protection" provisions have been used against labor unions in other states, but at the Capitol, Sissonville High School English teacher Katrina Minney said she's well aware that she's paying dues - and can stop the deduction at any time.

"So, I feel that it's insulting to me," she said. "I don't have to renew my health insurance every year, as an example; you know these are things they automatically are deducted, and I know what those are for. Believe me, if anything ever showed up on my check stub I didn't know what it was for, I would question that."

Senate President Mitch Carmichael said the 150-page bill is not an attack on the unions. The Jackson County Republican pointed to the pay raises in the package, and said it's needed to reform the state's under-performing public education system.

Gov. Jim Justice has said he objects to the paycheck provision and may veto the bill. However, Carmichael is pushing SB 451 through the Senate at near record speed for legislation of its size and complexity. The American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia opposes it, saying it would allow money to be taken from public schools for private schools, home schooling and newly permitted charter schools.

Bob Brown, a lobbyist for AFT, said the paycheck rule is designed to create a massive paperwork hassle for the unions and their 10,000 members.

"It's been the practice in West Virginia for well over 50 years that people can have not just union dues but money going to the credit union or money going to other charities taken out of their paycheck," he said. "This legislative proposal clearly is retaliation."

Carmichael's chances as a possible candidate for governor declined last year when the teachers' strike forced him and other Republican leaders to raise public employees' pay and put more money into their health insurance.

The text of SB 451 is online at wvlegislature.gov.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV