CHARLESTON — A bill described as clarifying any work stoppage or strike by public employees to be unlawful was passed by the State Senate this week and moved to the House for consideration.
Senate Education Chair Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson), who co-sponsored Senate Bill 11, also spoke in support of it.
“This legislation clarifies that work stoppages are unlawful in the state of West Virginia and sets up the steps for counties and also for all of us to know what are exactly the consequences if there is an illegal work stoppage in the future,” Rucker said when answering a question from a colleague during the session this week regarding the purpose of the bill.
SB 11 would, if passed, codify the 1990 decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals that already ruled work stoppages and strikes are illegal in the state. Critics of the bill have included union leadership representing those working in education.
The bill’s current language is as follows: “…relating to declaring any work stoppage or strike by public employees to be unlawful; providing legislative findings; defining when a county board of education employee is considered to be participating in a concerted work stoppage or strike; prohibiting use of accrued and equivalent instructional time and delivery of instruction through alternative methods to cancel days lost due to a concerted work stoppage or strike; prohibiting a waiver by the state board for a county board of education’s noncompliance with the employment and instructional term requirements if the noncompliance is the result of a concerted work stoppage or strike; declaring participation in a concerted work stoppage or strike to be grounds for termination; requiring, if the employee remains employed, county boards of education to withhold the prorated salary or hourly pay of each employee participating in the concerted work stoppage or strike for each day the employee participates; requiring the sums to be forfeited to the county board of education; and prohibiting participation in extracurricular activities when an originally scheduled instructional day or noninstructional day is canceled due to a concerted work stoppage or strike.”
The bill passed 21-12. Both Senators representing the Fourth Senatorial District, which Mason County falls within, voted for it, including Eric Tarr (R-Putnam) and Senator Amy Grady (R-Mason), who both serve on the senate’s education committee.
Grady has also been a teacher with Mason County Schools for many years at Leon Elementary. Grady officially began her first run for state senate following the work stoppage in 2018 by fellow educators and service personnel. She ran again in 2020, defeating former Senate President Mitch Carmichael in the GOP primary and went on to win in the general election this past November.
The Register reached out to Grady, asking for a statement on why she voted in favor of the legislation.
“I voted ‘yes’ on SB 11 because it is already illegal for public employees to strike in the state of West Virginia,” Grady stated. “This bill only changes the current law in that it clarifies that teachers cannot get paid for that days that we do not work due to a work stoppage or strike. In every other profession (nurses, coal miners, grocery workers, etc.), when you strike you forfeit your pay. That is what striking is about – walking out over a cause that you feel so deeply about that you are willing to sacrifice pay for it. Also, other public employees cannot strike and continue to be paid by taxpayer money. We (teachers) are not a special class of citizens who deserve a special set of rules. It simply is not fair to other public employees.
“Additionally, it is important to note that the original bill stated that superintendents would be required to keep schools open during a work stoppage or strike. This would have caused the safety of the students and staff to be compromised. It would have also caused staff members to choose to cross a picket line (further causing division and lowering moral amongst school employees). I was successful in convincing my colleagues in the Senate to agree to removing that part of the bill prior to our Education committee meeting. That amendment was very important and needed to keep our students and staff safe should a strike occur.
“Upon considering any bill that comes before me as a legislator, I always give a lot of thought into my vote. There will always be people who will not agree with my vote, but I will always do what is right. I often refer to this quote: ‘Doing what is right isn’t always easy, and doing what is easy isn’t always right.’ I stand by my vote and my reasons for doing so.”
Currently, SB 11 has had one reading in the House and is scheduled for a second on Thursday, Feb. 25 as is House Bill 2536.
The legislative note on HB 2536 states: “The purpose of this bill is to (a) disallow the use of provisions for schools to accumulate instructional time to be used to avoid disruptions to the school calendar due to necessary closures and to help improve instruction to be used to cancel days lost due to a work stoppage or strike, (b) require pay to be withheld when schools are closed due to a work stoppage or strike and applied to employees who subsequently fulfill their duties and contract, and (c) prohibit a school’s participation in extracurricular activities during any part of the day scheduled for instruction that it was closed due to a work stoppage or strike.”
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