By JEFF MORRIS, WCHS/WVAH
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) - West Virginia union leaders said they will be meeting Tuesday afternoon with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) as they try to resolve issues with a strike.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said the meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Schools have been shut down in 55 counties for four days during the dispute over pay, health insurance and other educational issues.
Thousands of school employees have flocked to the Capitol for rallies, including a huge one Monday that featured union speakers such as United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts.
On Monday, House Speaker Tim Armstead said he and Senate President Mitch Carmichael participated in some negotiations with union representatives.
During the course of the strike, Justice said several times that the state can’t afford any larger pay raises than those approved by the Legislature that he signed into law. Those raises will provide a 2 percent raise for teachers in the first year and 1 percent raises in each of the next two years. School employees will receive a 2 percent raise in the first year and 1 percent in the next year.
One of the main sticking points has been health insurance. Employees want a long-time fix that would fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Benefits and premium increases were frozen – at Justice's request - for 16 months by the PEIA finance board. Union representatives said, however, that was not a permanent fix.
Justice said on Monday that he would appoint a task force to address issues for PEIA. He also said he wanted a legislative session to explore the possibility for a severance tax on natural gas that could help fund PEIA. Armstead said following that, however, the Legislature has shown no support for a broad, “omnibus” bill on natural gas.