PEIA increase disappoints local teachers

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – American Federation of Teachers Union (AFT) members in Monongalia County are reacting to premium increases approved by the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) finance board.

AFT President Sam Brunett said the 10.5 percent increase, the second in two years doesn’t reflect the financial standing lawmakers tout. The increase comes as members continue recovering from the more than 20 percent increase last year.

Brunett said they don’t see or feel the record budget surplus numbers.

“It always seems to be that we have this great financial situation in the state, but none of our employees see any benefits of that,” Brunett said.

Members share stories with Brunett of still earning $800 to $1,000 less annually due to plan increases. A similar situation exists for the estimated 200,000 state workers and families that depend on PEIA coverage.

“The offsetting of the governor’s proposal of a cost of living increase isn’t even touching what teachers and state employees are taking out of pocket in order to afford their health insurance,” Brunett said.

The annual increase negotiation followed by a reactionary cost of living increase has reduced the value of PEIA as a benefit to teachers, according to Brunett. Pay and benefit issues continue to reduce the number of certified teachers in classrooms, and in some cases, this results in districts turning to uncertified replacements.

“I would like to see our legislators take a close look at how they can attract teachers and keep them in the classroom,” Brunett said. “Because it’s obvious we have a mass exodus right now.”

The governor, who promised no PEIA increases for teachers, has given raises in the past to cover the increases and has committed to doing it again, but that doesn’t mean the state legislature would pass it.

“You have to take care of your own and our governor and our legislature are not taking care of those people who they employ and we are state employees,” Brunett said.