Here's a crazy idea: Pass the deal they agreed to.

West Virginia teachers are still on strike, and all public schools in the state are closed, because Republicans in the state Senate just couldn't bring themselves to follow up on a promise made by West Virginia (Republican!) Gov. Jim Justice.

Last week it really looked like striking West Virginia teachers and Justice had reached a deal: Teachers would get a five percent pay raise and a promise to fix state employees' health insurance, the rising costs of which threatened to outstrip the much lower raise Justice had offered before the strike. Teachers and school support staff didn't love it, because West Virginia teacher pay is 48th in the nation, but they were willing to go back to work with at least a bit more financial security. The House of Delegates passed the deal (which also raised other state employees' pay by three percent), but in the Senate, Republican leadership decided to dick teachers around some more, because what if the improved revenue forecast Justice had relied on couldn't cover that raise? Also, Senate president Mitch Carmichael seems ideologically committed to screwing over teachers' unions. Do we need to mention he's a Republican?

Over the weekend, the Senate's "we can't afford it" claim morphed into a whole 'nother brilliant idea: Maybe there was money for a pay increase. But instead of just passing the raise that teachers, the governor, and the House had agreed to, the Senate decided that it wasn't fair to other state employees, so it passed a bill that cut the teachers' raise to four percent so the remaining money could cover a four percent raise for all other state employees. It's your basic bait and switch, designed to pit other state employees against teachers to diminish the teacher's union. And as we've pointed out from the start, West Virginia teacher pay has been suppressed thanks to years and years of tax cuts that went to business but never resulted in an economic boom. Imagine that.

But first, for the sake of low comedy, the Senate on Saturday screwed up and accidentally passed the un-amended House bill with the original deal, then scrambled to undo that little mistake. The West Virginia Education Association, which along with the state arm of the American Federation of Teachers is leading the strike, was astonished:

A striking high school English teacher told NPR, "apparently they need more teachers on-staff in the Senate to do some proof-reading and editing."

The Senate eventually fixed their error and voted for the version with the reduced four percent raise. That wasn't about to fly with the teachers, because Senate Republicans had so transparently made it clear their vote wasn't about saving money, it was about never agreeing to give teachers the deal they had agreed to. The House of Delegates, bless 'em, voted down the amended bill -- and we'd like to hope the Delegates gave Senators some serious side-eye as they voted.

The strike organizers were not amused, and issued a statement late Saturday to emphasize that they weren't about to let the Senate's games divide them. Sure, give all state workers a raise. But give us -- and them -- the raise we were promised, and while you're at it, fix the damned health insurance:

And so all West Virginia schools remain closed today as teachers flood into the statehouse again to make it clear that they would simply like the Legislature to fulfill the governor's promise. You almost get the impression that Mitch Carmichael and other top Republicans in the Senate are far more interested in picking an anti-union fight than in getting kids back to school. But that would be terribly cynical, wouldn't it?

Next, the legislature will set up a conference committee to resolve the difference between the two versions of the teacher pay bill. For their part, the teachers vow to remain out until they get the deal they were promised a week ago, and Jim Justice will continue to say he tried, he really tried. Wonder if he's tried actually sitting down with Carmichael and the Senate leadership and telling them to do their damn jobs?

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[CNN / NPR / Newsweek / CBS]

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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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