POINT PLEASANT — Teachers and service personnel want to keep the momentum going and correctional officers and employees don’t want their voices left behind in the struggle to fix and fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA), and to rectify what they see as a pattern of stagnant wages.
This was the prevailing sentiment of a gathering held at The Meeting House in Point Pleasant on Saturday, and organized by the Mason County Democratic Women’s Organization. The meeting was for all city, county, and state public employees as well interested members of the public. The meeting offered an opportunity to talk to representatives, candidates and labor leaders.
Moderating the event was Scott Brewer (D-New Haven), who represents the 13th District in the House of Delegates and is himself a member of the Carpenter’s Union.
“I think part of what might be the issue this year is that, as public employees, you have been told over and over, for years and years, ‘we just can’t afford it, we just don’t have enough, you need to be patient, one day we’ll turn the corner,’” Brewer said. “But guess what, at the beginning of this year, our governor announced that we had turned the corner, he announced we had this dramatic turn around.”
Brewer said Gov. Jim Justice reported the state would have a surplus and “here we are.”
Brewer also disagreed with any announcements coming from Charleston that PEIA has been fixed.
“What I believe we are getting ready to see, is kicking it just past November so we don’t have to talk about it again before the election,” Brewer added.
Brewer wasn’t the only panel and audience member who stressed accountability at the ballot box.
Joshua Sword from the AFL-CIO stated, “We’re all in this together, public sector and private sector, it’s been a war on working families for four years and it has to stop. Everybody please pay attention, because not everybody at the Capitol is a friend. Not everybody is an enemy. We have to remember that. Pay attention and remember that because in November we get a chance to elect people that are going to support our issues.”
Both Sword and Elaine Harris from the Communication Workers of America (CWA), who was also at the meeting Saturday, previously served 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.
“Let’s be perfectly clear, we’re all in this together, whether you’re a teacher, service personnel, state trooper or working within the walls of a correctional or juvenile facility, or state worker, DHHR worker…we’re all in this together,” Harris said about the commonality among the different public employees. “You can’t let them divide us.”
At least one correctional worker at the meeting stated they hadn’t had a raise in 10 years, speaking further about the problematic turnover in a career field where people were “trying to protect the public’s lives.” More on the latest in pay rates for correctional workers in an adjacent story on page one.
Teachers and service personnel also expressed frustration at the situation of stagnant pay rates, and lack of a permanent fix for PEIA, and were ready to act to maintain the momentum which they feel has gotten the attention of some in state government. A meeting for county school personnel is set for 6 p.m. at PPJ/SHS tonight to discuss the outcome of a local and state-wide vote on a one-day work stoppage and/or possible strike. More on how Mason County voted in an adjacent story on page one.
More on this developing story here in the Point Pleasant Register and online at www.mydailyregister.com.