In what appears to be the biggest strike in West Virginia history, thousands of teachers walked off the job Thursday, closing schools in all of the state's 55 counties, the Wall Street Journal reports. The central issue is teacher pay. The starting salary for a teacher in West Virginia is around $32,500; the average teacher salary is $44,701. According to the AP, that's the 48th lowest in the US. Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, says teachers haven't gotten a raise since 2014. Teachers on Thursday marched on the state capitol chanting "You work for us!" and bearing signs with slogans like "No recess until YOU clean up this mess," CNN reports. The two-day work stoppage was scheduled to continue on Friday.
"The most important thing for us right now is public education and that we're standing up for our students and our colleagues," says Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia. Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill Wednesday night that gives teachers a 2% pay increase in July and a 1% raise each of the next two years. "We certainly recognize our teachers are underpaid," Justice says. But teachers say the pay increase is too little and does nothing to address other concerns, such as rising healthcare costs. Earlier this month Justice said it would be a "crying shame" if teachers went on strike, and the state's attorney general called the strike illegal. Teachers' unions have worked with food pantries to make sure kids have enough food during the work stoppage, and churches and community centers are hosting programs for kids so parents can still go to work.