CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 2/17/18 @ 9:38 p.m.
The rain poured down as thousands braved the cold to rally at the West Virginia Capitol Saturday afternoon. Public employees, mostly teachers and school support personnel, were joined by other labor unions to protest low wages and rising insurance costs.
Thousands turned out, braving the rain in ponchos and huddled under umbrellas, everyone waiting for the message.
“This Thursday and Friday, the first statewide walkout,” explained West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee to the crowd.
It marked the end of an hours-long onslaught against lawmakers and the Governor, people the education, service personnel and other public employee unions say are not doing enough to help.
“It is wrong in this state when single mothers with kids who are beginning teachers or service personnel who've been working awhile qualify for public assistance,” Dale Lee explained.
"People can go literally across the border and make anywhere from 5 to 20 thousand dollars more,” said Christine Campbell, President of the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia.
Leaders of two major teacher unions, the WVEA and AFT, were joined by national representatives at the rally, including from the National Education Association. The fight here in West Virginia they say is making national waves.
“A victory for West Virginia teachers will only encourage victories in other places as well,” explained Mary Cathryn Ricker with AFT on a national level.
"The men and women who have dedicated their lives to educating the students of America themselves are struggling to provide for their own, their own children and their own families,” said Becky Pringle with the NEA.
With signs held skyward against the falling rain, supporters, friends and family lined both side of Kanawha Boulevard, the road shut down in one direction during the rally.
With a two-day walkout coming Thursday and Friday, the West Virginia Education Association tells WSAZ there will not be school in virtually every county in the state. Union leaders say they announced this well in advance, knowing it’s an inconvenience to families. They add they wanted to give people enough time to arrange things like childcare for their children.
And while the unions say there won’t be school, it is still up to the local superintendents to officially call off class.
Thousands of teachers, service personnel and public employees packed the West Virginia Capitol grounds for a rally.
This follows weeks of anger over PEIA, low wages and what they see as inaction by the state legislature.
We’ll have more coverage of Saturday's events coming.
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