Image: Associated Press

Here’s a bajillionth story about thousands of underpaid people, mostly women, throwing all of their time and energy into convincing a small group of powerful people, mostly men, to make life a little less shitty.

Bajillion is not a number, West Virginia’s teachers might explain, were they not all on strike since last Thursday, after Governor Jim Justice signed off on a meager pay raise of two percent for teachers, school service personnel and state police starting in July 2018, with an additional one percent raise promised for 2020. Roughly three quarters of teachers nationally are women, and West Virginia’s teachers’ salaries are 48th in the country, the HuffPost has pointed out. While Governor Justice has since met with three unions and agreed to work for a five percent pay raise, Senate President Mitch Carmichael has seemed unlikely to budge. “At this point everybody’s still prepared to be out for the long haul,” first-grade teacher Julie Alderman told the New York Times on Friday.

Combined with increased health care costs, teachers are barely treading water, Christine Campbell, President of the American Federation of Teachers of West Virginia (AFT-WV) tells Jezebel. “We’re seeing paychecks go down, not up,” she says. “We have people who have two, three jobs, people who have left, people who are uncertified teaching our students.” According to a 2016 study by the Regional Education Laboratory Appalachia, a third of West Virginia’s teachers leave the state after their first four years of teaching.

After meeting with Governor Justice, the AFT-WV has announced on behalf of three school personnel unions that teachers are “ready to get back” to work–but not without the word Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who’s said he would rather the money go toward state health insurance.

“It’s easy to come in here and just vote for what people want, but that’s not what the general citizens expect of West Virginia,” Carmichael was quoted as saying in WSAZ News on Thursday. “That’s what’s been done around here for too long.”

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Closing schools is not only an issue for education but for families, Campbell notes. She said that before they walked out, teachers ensured that food banks were open in order to provide students with meals. West Virginia ranks 5th in state poverty rates.

Despite the fact that it is illegal for teachers to strike in West Virginia, thousands are reportedly protesting outside the capitol today, where they are waiting for the state senate finance committee to hear the new bill which would provide a five percent raise.

Jezebel has reached out to representatives for Senate President Mitch Carmichael and will update the post if we hear back.