Brooke teachers protest legislation

RAISING THEIR VOICES — Many Brooke County teachers formed an informational picket along state Route 2 and in front of Follansbee Middle School Monday in response to concerns about pending legislation affecting their pay, benefits, seniority and paycheck deductions. -- Warren Scott

FOLLANSBEE — A Brooke County teacher said he and other West Virginia teachers aren’t only unhappy about a proposed increase in health care coverage and low pay.

They also are opposed to pending legislation that would affect their seniority and ability to have dues for professional organizations come out of their paychecks, said Ron Ujcich, a Brooke County teacher and president of the school district’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

He was among many Brooke County teachers who formed an informational picket along state Route 2 Monday afternoon.

Ujcich said pending legislation would eliminate a teacher’s seniority as a factor when considering layoffs and transfers.

That means school boards would no longer be required to protect the jobs of the most experienced teachers, he said. Ujcich said Senate Bill 335, which recently was passed by the state Senate by a 20-13 vote, has been dubbed by supporters as the Paycheck Protection Act, but would eliminate teachers’ freedom to have dues for their membership in AFT or the West Virginia Education Association taken from their pay.

The two groups have wielded political influence on past state legislatures but, unlike teacher unions in other states, membership isn’t mandatory.

Ujcich acknowledged the state Public Employee Insurance Agency “is at a financial shortfall but they keep putting it on the backs of teachers and other state employees.”

He said a 1 percent pay increase for each of the next five years proposed by Gov. Jim Justice wouldn’t be enough to offset their increased cost for health care.

Ujcich sees a strike “as a last resort,” adding teachers will be joined by other state employees at a rally in Charleston Saturday.