Public schools across West Virginia were closed Monday for the third consecutive day as teachers walked out of their classrooms to fight for higher wages and better healthcare benefits.
West Virginia is ranked 48th in the country for average teacher pay — a sentiment that hits close to home for Arizona educators.
Arizona ranks last.
West Virginia’s median salary for an elementary-school teacher, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $45,520. Arizona’s median salary is $42,730.
Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state professional organization for teachers, said he’s holding onto the hope that change will be made in Arizona’s education system before it results in a strike here as well.
“Teachers really want to be in the classroom, so they don’t go on strike until they feel like everything else has failed,” he said. “Teachers want to teach, but they also want to be supported.”
Thomas said he thinks the best thing that can happen here in Arizona is not a strike, but a push for voters to get to the polls.
“That’s the statewide action we need,” he said. “We need people to show up at the polls and vote for people who will bring the resources our students and our teachers need.”
Although he hopes to avoid a strike here, Thomas offered his support as West Virginia educators fight for their rights at the state capital Monday.
“I stand in solidarity with what’s happening in West Virginia,” he said. “They’re really hurting over there.”
Arizona is a right-to-work state, meaning teachers would have no union protections if they chose to strike. They could be fired or otherwise penalized for not going to work.