Cecil Roberts: I support WV teachers because I support WV kids

Source: Charleston Gazette Mail

The bold actions by West Virginia’s teachers, school support personnel and other state employees to stand up for our state and our schoolchildren over these last two weeks are an inspiration.

To see these normally reserved, compassionate professionals take a proud position to improve their pay, for better security of their benefits and a better long-term education for West Virginia’s children sends a refreshing message of strength and hope to me and millions of others — not just within our state but across America.

I know our teachers would much rather be in the classroom with their students than out on the picket line or rallying in front of the Capitol. It is better to solve workplace issues at a bargaining table, with both sides reaching a mutually beneficial agreement. Unfortunately, our teachers do not have that opportunity. They instead are forced to react to the whims of a state Legislature that is more interested in ideological purity than it is in doing what’s best for the people — and especially the children — of West Virginia working families.

I am heartened by the actions of these brave teachers and workers because I know that those who will gain the most from a successful ending to this action will be West Virginia’s students. They will reap the benefits of an educational system equipped with long-term professional teachers who don’t have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck and can instead focus on helping our students become the best they can be.

This problem is largely one of the West Virginia Legislature’s own making. Over the past several years, the Legislature has taken vote after vote that have impacted workers’ wages and the resulting taxes they pay.

For example, passing legislation restricting prevailing wages for construction workers hasn’t created any more jobs, but it has resulted in smaller paychecks for those workers and lower income and sales tax revenue collected from those workers. Passing Right to Work (For Less) legislation hasn’t brought any new businesses to West Virginia, but it has reduced the ability of workers to collectively win better pay and benefits, which would help fill state coffers.

Far too many of our legislators cannot see that because they are blinded by an ideology that puts the demands of out-of-state billionaires and corporate elitists ahead of the needs of West Virginia working families. Perhaps the courage of our teachers and others who have so boldly stepped forward will take the blinders off these legislators and bring some sense to them.

But I’m not holding my breath. The bumbling maneuvers by the West Virginia Senate leadership last week only serve to further highlight the majority’s disinterest in actual governance. The continued outrageous insults about teachers and allied workers from individual senators show them to be little more than schoolyard bullies who someone has finally stood up to.

While our legislative leaders continue to do the bidding of their corporate masters, our teachers’ pay still ranks 47th in the nation. Even the 5 percent increase that was approved by the House last week won’t change that ranking much. The laws passed in the last two legislative sessions attacking workers’ rights will cut workers’ paychecks and slash their benefits. These regressive policies only serve to hurt West Virginia working families, not help them.

Despite that, I am indeed inspired by our teachers and the others who have gathered at the state Capitol, walked the picket lines and stood united, fighting to make things better for our children and grandchildren. They have seen what is happening to our state, and decided to stand up and do something about it.

The UMWA is proud to join with them for the sake of a brighter future for all West Virginians. That’s worth fighting for today, tomorrow and forever. #55strong!