MASON COUNTY — Prior to the start of the school day on Monday, teachers and service personnel with Mason County Schools were up even earlier than normal, lining the highways near their schools to raise public awareness concerning health insurance issues and pay raises for public employees.
The so-called “walk-ins” took place all across the county and included displays of homemade signs and the distribution of informational flyers. Following the walk-ins, teachers and service personnel went inside their respective schools and did their jobs, just like any other day – though, this wasn’t just any other day.
Among those attending the walk-in at New Haven Elementary were Delegate Scott Brewer (D-13th District), New Haven Mayor Jerry Spradling, and Mason County Board of Education member Rhonda Tennant.
Brewer, who stopped on his way to the legislative session in Charleston, said he was there to support all public employees.
“The teachers just happen to be the people out here today,” he added.
Brewer told the school employees that he was headed to Charleston to “fight the fight for you,” and urged them to attend the Public Employees Support Meeting and Rally, set for Feb. 10, noon, at The Meeting House in Point Pleasant. Following the meeting, a rally and march will begin at 2 p.m. at the Mason County Courthouse.
Mayor Spradling agreed.
“I’m a union worker,” he said. “I know what they are dealing with. People just want to cut, and take and take and take.”
Cindy Swisher is a mom, as well as the wife of a worker at Lakin Hospital. She said teachers are the first line of defense when it comes to raising the next generation to make the world better, but said it is more than that.
“I’m here in support of all state workers. Some people think this is just about teachers, but it affects more than that,” she said. “Our insurance is doubling because now they are adding my income into it.”
One New Haven teacher said she and her husband both have Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) coverage. While there is currently a formula that figures the insurance premiums and gives a break to families having more than one state worker, that formula will be abolished if the proposed legislative action is passed. With a one percent pay raise, which will mean about $400 a year on average, it won’t help, she said, because her insurance premium will be going to $2,400 a year.
“Our coverage is also decreasing,” said the educator. “The insurance is presently 80/20, but will go to 60/40.”
Following the teacher walk-in, a group of parents met at the Bridge of Honor to continue to rally. Among them was a Meigs County teacher who was out of school due to inclement weather.
Sherrill Hoffman, one of the organizers, said the parents wanted to show support for the teachers and state workers, even after the staff had to return to their teaching jobs.
Ashley Cossin, who traveled to the bridge site from the Flatrock area, said she had been at the Roosevelt Elementary walk-in earlier Monday morning. She said organizers are hoping to have parent groups throughout the county in the next week or so, showing their support at various locations. Also at Roosevelt Elementary showing support for teachers, was school board member Dale Shobe.
Concerning the informational meeting on Saturday, Brewer said it would be a question and answer format for all public employees or anyone interested in the proposed changes to PEIA insurance and other issues facing public employees. Brewer said confirmed speakers for the meeting are Elaine Harris of the Communications Workers of America and AFL-CIO President Josh Sword.
Both Harris and Sword were previously on the PEIA Finance Board but no longer serve due to Senate Bill 221, which, according to previous stories by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, reduced the size of the board as well as removed the requirement that organized labor have a seat on the board and prohibited registered lobbyists from serving on the board. Brewer said both Harris and Sword will bring a unique understanding of the PEIA Finance Board and other issues facing public employees.
Brewer said the issues he is hearing the most about from his constituents this legislative session are wages for public employees and PEIA. With the meeting on Saturday, he said residents facing these issues, which hit so many public employees, from “highways to corrections” will have an opportunity to get more information.
“As far as how everything is going to play out (in Charleston), nobody can say right now,” Brewer said, explaining this is a “fluid” process where all the pieces are yet to fall into place, as negotiations and debates continue.
On Friday, the Associated Press reported, at public hearings later this month, the PEIA Finance Board will hear Gov. Jim Justice’s proposal to reduce premiums for families that have two state incomes, including teachers. Those premiums would be based on half of their combined state income, resulting in significantly lower premiums compared with the proposed increases.