What Pittsburgh Can Learn from West Virginia’s Teachers Strike



Teachers hold a rally outside the Senate Chambers in the West Virginia Capitol. Hundreds of teachers from 55 counties are on strike for pay raises and better health benefits, Monday, March. 5, 2018 in Charleston (AP Photo/Tyler Evert)

Sam Bisno, Editor-in-Chief

Last week, the Eagle reported that the impending Pittsburgh Public Schools strike had been called off as a tentative settlement had been reached between the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the school board regarding the state of the teachers’ contract. And while that was certainly good news, the simple fact that the situation ever escalated to the point of direct action is cause for concern. The resolution is not slated to last the standard five years – instead, it will expire in 2021, at which point negotiations will no doubt resume. Even if the details of the new contract are not clear, one thing is: steps need to be taken between now and then to ensure that students are never faced with the prospect of having to miss school because the people in charge of providing them with a high-quality education cannot come to an agreement.

That begs the question of what exactly happens next. And I believe the answer lies with our southern neighbor, West Virginia. Coincidentally, teachers in that state have also been embroiled in a contract dispute as of late, the major difference being that theirs did result in a walk-out — a walk-out that left some 277,000 children with no place to go and parents and guardians scrambling to make arrangements while juggling their jobs at the same time for nine days. But yesterday it was announced that students would return to classes following a deal that grants teachers a five percent pay increase.

We can learn a lesson from this. West Virginia serves as a reminder both of the dangers of carelessness and of what real change looks like. In three years when we find ourselves mixed up in the same ordeal we were in just a week ago, we need to take a new approach, an approach more open to compromise. We came dangerously close to facing the same crisis that our sister state did, and who is to say that we will not tip over the precipice next go around? We need to make sure that teachers’ complaints are registered before it is too late, and we need to keep our school board representatives accountable. On the flip side, we as students need to educate ourselves when times like these arise. We need to make our voices the loudest, because it is us who will suffer the most if the union and the board continue to be at odds. It is our duty to make it abundantly clear that we will not sit idly by as our lives are derailed by the very individuals who are supposed to be looking out for us. The motto of PPS is “Expect great things.” Let’s hold them to that.