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Tega Toney: Senate president should work with teachers

July 29, 2018

Earlier this month, West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael has taken it upon himself to launch a one-man crusade against the American Federation of Teachers, calling our hard-working members “socialist radicals” and attempting to take credit for a pay increase in which he fought tooth and nail to deny to public employees.

West Virginia teachers, service personnel and public employees are not radical bogeymen who are hiding in the bushes waiting to steal away West Virginia values. We help wake this state up every morning and put it to bed every night. We are parents, union members, active church members, little league coaches, neighbors and community-minded individuals. We represent hard work, perseverance, dedication, service to our state and love for the mountains in which we live. This characterization of us by Senate President Carmichael is, first and foremost, unbecoming of his office. Second, it is obvious that it is motivated by self-serving political interests.

West Virginia unions, and especially the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, fight for bread-and-butter issues that affect West Virginia working families and communities. Ultimately, we can deduct at least one thing from the Senator’s anti-working families social media storm: He doesn’t want an organization looking out for the workers’ best interest.

Why not, Senator?

Let’s be clear: West Virginia teachers and service personnel fought for the pay increase. Senator Carmichael fought us every step of the way. Nothing was given to us out of kindness. During an election year, he is choosing to spin a false narrative to try to claim credit for this pay increase. There is one thing I can give the senator credit for: Despite all of his union-busting tactics, the largest labor demonstration in decades happened in his state and under his watch.

Congratulations, Senator! You have helped launch a strong and robust labor movement across this country!

We are still fighting for a PEIA fix. Will Senator Carmichael tweet his plans to help us, or will he wait for West Virginia unions and our allies to find a fix for West Virginia working families and then try to change that narrative, too? I listened to him try to politicize a PEIA Task Force Public Outreach Subcommittee meeting and use it as an opportunity to take a swipe at the AFT. He was shut down and reined in, but the whole incident begs an important question: Is he there to attack an organization trying to help working families, or is he there to actually help working families?

This is about respect, and clearly it appears as if our Senate president has none for the working families of West Virginia who are in the trenches day in and day out. This is why teachers and service personnel who have felt disrespected by anti-public education legislation introduced under Senator Carmichael & Company’s helm walked out of our classrooms, school kitchens and off of our buses. We have felt ignored, neglected, devalued, and disrespected by the tactics of the majority party, and like our chant rang through the halls of the Capitol, “We’re not going to take it anymore!”

Senator Carmichael, we have tried to work with you for years. The ball is now in your court. I urge you to abandon fear tactics and false narratives. I implore you to pledge to work with the unions and the 20,000-plus public employees we represent in West Virginia. We work for real, hardworking West Virginia families who want to see our state thrive and prosper for generations to come.

Tega Toney, a Fayetteville resident, is a teacher at Oak Hill High School and president of AFT-Fayette.

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