Teachers' Walkout of 1980

Thousands rally to push pay hike

By Mark Ward

The Charleston Gazette
March 22, 1980

An estimated 6,000 to 7,000 state teachers braved torrential rain and gusting winds at Laidley Field Friday to protest the $950 pay raise approved for them in the last minutes of the 1980 Legislature.

The hour-long gathering had all the trappings of a high school pep rally, with teachers waving homemade signs under umbrellas as officers of the West Virginia Education Association led the group in cheers, chants and songs.

The rally was followed by a mile-long parade that at one point completely encircled the Capitol as the front of the parade met the rear.

"Today is the day the teachers of West Virginia issue our own declaration of independence," WVEA President Ermalee Boice told the assembled group. "Teachers have been patient, too patient. Today that patience is at an end.

"You know what it feels like to teach school, chaperone an after-school meeting, do bus duty, collect money for tickets at a ball-game, go home and grade papers, and finally curl up to read the newspaper and be greeted by a letter to the editor or an editorial about lack of teacher dedication," she said.

Noting that teachers received the lowest percent increase of any group of state employees, Mrs. Boice encouraged the teachers to press their state delegates and senators to reconvene the Legislature in a special session for the purpose of increasing teacher salaries.

State Sen. Si Boettner, D-Kanawha, told the group he was the first legislator to sign a petition calling for such a special session. He was joined by Delegates George Warner and Walter Price, both R- Kanawha, who supported a similar petition for the House.

The signatures of 20 state senators and 60 delegates would be needed to reconvene the Legislature for a special session.

"What you do today is not only important, it is cataclysmic," said Don Cameron, assistant executive director of the National Education Association, parent of the WVEA.

"While you've been in the classroom, politicians have been making back-room deals. The politicians are sticking their noses in our business. Now it's time for us to stick our noses in theirs," he said.

A delegation of 10 county leaders and Mrs. Boice met with Gov. Jay Rockefeller after the rally. However, Rockefeller refused to support WVEA's call for a special session or the Friday walkout.

"There is no use, no reason, for calling a special session," he said, "because there is no money."

Activities in the one-day teacher walkout began at 10 a.m., with a gathering of some 100 rain-slickered teachers in the rotunda of the Capitol.

There organizers distributed signs with slogans such as, "No pay, no Jay," "Listen to us, or lose us," "Give us more money or we'll give you Moore," "A chicken in every pot, a turkey in every Kittle" and "You won't pay? We won't stay!"

Among the group was Dan Hunter, president of the Jackson County Education Association, who came with his wife, two sons and daughter.

"Generally, teachers in Jackson County are madder than hell with this pay raise," he said. "I don't have enough money to take my children to the dentist. It's coming to the point where, if I don't get a raise soon, we'll have to move someplace else."

Many Kanawha County teachers also were among the group, including about 10 from Sharon-Dawes Elementary. They said they decided to stay out of school, despite the fact that Friday was made a half- day.

"All those people from other counties had to come so far," said Carolyn Barker. "We didn't feel it was fair for us to be in school while they took the day off. We should be willing to sacrifice too."

And come they did, in carloads and busloads from all over the state. Teachers began assembling at Laidley Field around noon and by 1 p.m. the crowd swelled to some 6,000 or so, nearly filling the stadium's south stands.

There the group huddled under umbrellas against rain and hail showers and winds gusting up to 50 miles an hour as they waited for the speakers to begin.

But rather than dispirit the teachers, the weather seemed to harden their disenchantment. Each speaker's criticism of the Legislature brought fresh applause and occasional chants of "We want more!"

After the rally, the group lined up into a parade column led by WVEA leaders and a drum corps of Kanawha County band directors. City police halted traffic as the group marched up Elizabeth Street to Washington Street around the Capitol and back to Laidley Field.

Many bystanders, though startled by the march, seemed supportive of the teachers. Motorists honked their horns in support and merchants gave them thumbs-up signs as they passed.

Cameron said he was impressed with the demonstration.

"You don't often see this kind of enthusiasm in teachers," he said. "Most of them are prone by nature to just grin and bear it, but they realize now they can't do it any more and survive."


West Virginia Archives and History