CHARLESTON – As teachers and school service personnel across West Virginia continue their work stoppage, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey calls the planned walkout illegal.
“Our teachers and school service personnel are among the state’s best and brightest, and I wholeheartedly support their cries for higher salaries and affordable healthcare, however a work stoppage of any length on any ground is illegal,” Morrisey said in a Feb. 21 statement. “Let us make no mistake, the impending work stoppage is unlawful.
“State law and court rulings give specific parties avenues to remedy such illegal conduct, including the option to seek an injunction to end an unlawful strike.”
Teachers and school service personnel across the state walked out Feb. 22 and 23, even after Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill late Feb. 21 to give the teachers a 2 percent raise next year and a 1 percent raise each of the following two years. Service personnel will receive a 2 percent raise next year and a 1 percent raise the following year.
On Feb. 23, the teachers and service personnel said they’ll continue the work stoppage again Feb 26.
“This illegal work stoppage affects hundreds of thousands of students and families across our state,” Morrisey said. “Our office is prepared to support any relevant state agency or board with legal remedies they may choose to pursue to uphold the law.
“We also stand ready to assist and support any county board of education or county superintendent as they enforce the law.”
Morrisey’s statement didn’t mention if his office had been asked to seek an injunction or any other legal move.
“Any such action would be consistent with my duty as attorney general to uphold the rule of law and designed so as to ensure our students have access to the education they are entitled to by our state’s constitution,” he said. “Breaking the law does not set a good example for our children.”
On Feb. 23, Morrisey declined further comment on the matter, saying he’d have more to say when he had something he could tell the public. But he again stressed that the walkout is illegal.
Teachers last staged a walkout in West Virginia in March 1990. Teachers in 47 of the state’s 55 counties took part, and it lasted 11 days. That strike triggered in a special legislative session focusing on education, which resulted in several changes to the state public school system.
Then-Attorney General Roger Tompkins issued an option to then-State School Superintendent Hank Marockie. It was based on previous rulings from the AG’s office, and it cited a 1970 federal ruling backing Gov. Arch Moore’s decision to fire striking state road employees.
“There is no right to strike against the state,” Tompkins said. “Thus, any strike or concerted work stoppage by public teachers of this state is illegal.”
It also cited an earlier state AG opinion.
“In our educational system we are not making cars or chemicals and we are not manufacturing televisions or trucks,” it stated. “Instead, we are, in fact, determining the very future of our State and our Nation.
“This is as much the responsibility of the school bus drivers, cooks, janitors, teachers’ aides, maintenance men, clerical and other employees as it is the teachers and administrators.”
Also, a 1990 state Supreme Court opinion upheld a Jefferson County preliminary injunction to end a teacher work stoppage. But it didn’t mention possible ramifications for the teachers who walked out.
“Public employees have no right to strike in the absence of express legislation or, at the very least, appropriate statutory provisions for collective bargaining, mediation, and arbitration,” it stated.