West Virginia House of Delegates Backs Away from Charles Trump Anti-Strike Amendment

The Republican controlled West Virginia House of Delegates has backed away from an amendment introduced by Senator Charles Trump (R-Morgan) that would give the state authority to fire teachers and superintendents for engaging in work stoppages similar to the 2018 work stoppage that pressured the state legislature to pass a five percent pay raise to teachers.

Trump’s amendment passed the Senate last week as part of an omnibus education bill.

Trump’s bill was widely seen as retaliation against the teachers and superintendents for the 2018 work stoppage.

On this morning’s Eastern Panhandle Talk with Rob Mario and David Welch, House Education Committee Chair Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson) said that the Republican caucus in the House opted not to include Trump’s amendment in the omnibus House education bill.

“While I think Chairman Trump made a compelling case why perhaps that should be included, there was some uneasiness among some members of our caucus — significant, enough members of our caucus — that made it difficult to keep that provision in the legislation,” Espinosa said.

After being criticized for pushing the bill through the Senate, Trump took to the airwaves last week to defend his bill.

Trump had said that his bill was a “mere codification of state law.”

But West Virginia College of Law Professor Joshua Weishart said that it was much more than that – it would make explicit that teacher work stoppages were unlawful, that teachers could be fired for engaging in work stoppages and that it was unlawful for school superintendents to close a school in anticipation of or to facilitate a concerted work stoppage or strike.

On Eastern Panhandle Talk with Rob Mario and David Welch last Friday, Trump said that in addition to a 1990 West Virginia State Supreme Court decision in Jefferson County declaring that there is no right for public employees to strike in West Virginia, there is a state law that prohibits teachers from striking.

“I’ll concede the point that the decision in 1990 did not address whether or not a superintendent has the authority to close schools to facilitate or in anticipation of a teacher’s strike,” Trump said. “That is part of the amendment that I offered that was adopted by the Senate. But I do not agree with the rest of (Professor Weishart’s critique.)”

Trump said that there is a law on the books in West Virginia (WV Code Chapter 18 A Article 2 Section 2 Subsection e) which provides that “a teacher is disqualified to teach in any public school in the state for the duration of the next ensuing school year if that teacher fails to fulfill his or her contract with the board unless prevented from doing so by personal illness or other just cause or unless released by his or her contract by the board. . ..”

“That’s the current law of West Virginia,” Trump said. “My contention is that in the face of a public strike, which there is no right to do, school superintendents have authority under current law to impose disciplinary action upon a teacher, including termination.”

In response, Professor Weishart said – “Of course teachers can be dismissed for not fulfilling their contractual obligations.”

“Tenure doesn’t mean teachers can’t be fired for good cause,” Weishart said. “The anti-strike amendment specifies that participating in a strike or work stoppage is good cause for termination. The West Virginia Supreme Court did not go that far.”

In a blog posting, Professor Weishart said that the Trump amendment aims to subjugate teachers.

“As a professor, I don’t have a right to show up late to teach my class (the 15 min. rule is a myth), not grade my exams (grading is the worst), or refuse to conduct legal research (that so few read),” Weishart wrote. “If I’m late for class, fail to grade, or never do my research, I might be disciplined or even lose my job, but that doesn’t make my behavior illegal (with or without tenure).”

“You have no right to flip off your boss, particularly for some nonpolitical, expressive reason. You likely will be fired. That doesn’t make flipping off your boss illegal (indeed, it might be justified).”   

“There is, in short, a substantial difference between illegal and unprotected (or not fully protected) activity,” Weishart wrote.

“A slim Republican majority in the West Virginia Senate are attempting to belie that difference with a not-so-subtle, retaliatory maneuver to make what is unprotected, illegal. Seeking to resurrect the omnibus bill, they have injected an anti-union provision hoping to make this monstrosity more attractive to their conservative friends in the House. It should scare them away.”  

“If anything is ‘illegal’ about teacher strikes, it is this punitive anti-strike amendment that punishes educators for exercising their constitutional rights on behalf of their students.”

“Don’t be fooled by proponents of this anti-strike section who claim it is a ‘mere codification’ of Jefferson County. It goes well beyond what the Supreme Court said in 1990.”

“Stripped of all the legal jargon and doublespeak, this anti-strike section is about subjugating teachers. Period.”

“West Virginia teachers will not be subjugated,” Weishart wrote. “This is the fundamental miscalculation of the anti-strike section – it underestimates teachers who know that the future of public education is at stake. They will not be intimidated because there is only so much disrespect they can take and because they did not enter their profession for themselves but for their students.”

On the Rob and Dave morning, show, Trump said — “I’m on the side of the children and the taxpayers.”

“My constitutional duty is to ensure that there is a thorough and efficient public education for the children of this state,” Trump said. “My focus is on the kids and getting them what they need.”

Trump quoted former New York Giants coach Bill Parcells as saying – “you are what your record says you are.”

“And out record is not very good. We are 49th in the nation in SAT scores, 46th in eighth grade math scores.”

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