Getting Their Steps by Marching
There’s something happening here: All of West Virginia’s public school teachers are in the second week of a wildcat strike, demanding higher wages and better health care coverage, and as Josh Eidelson reports for Bloomberg, they’ve defied their own state union leaders, rejecting a tentative deal reached with the governor last Tuesday. Teacher pay in West Virginia is 22 percent below the national average, and the offer of a mere 1 percent salary increase from Governor Jim Justice was deemed insulting. The coal barons who still run the state don’t want to increase pay; instead state legislators actually have proposed lowering teacher certification standards so the state can more easily fill vacant jobs.
Intriguingly, one of the key triggers pushing the teachers to revolt was the imposition of so-called “wellness app” called Go365. In late January, the state’s Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), which handles the health insurance for teachers and other state employees, announced that it was making Go365 mandatory as of July 1. Teachers and other service personnel would be required to download the app, track their daily exercise activity, keep a sleep log, take a daily health quiz, measure their waist circumference, and send the state photographic evidence of their activities. The app gives users points that can be redeemed in the “Go365 Mall” for Amazon gift cards and the like. Each month that a teacher failed to meet Go365’s targets would result in $25 increase in health premiums. Opting out of the program would increase their annual deductible by $500.
Talk about the power of scale! As one high school English teacher, Katie Endicott, told The New York Times’ Jess Bidgood, “people felt that was very invasive, to have to download that app and to be forced into turning over sensitive information.” Another teacher told former Gothamist reporter Scott Heins, “You’re telling me my deductible is going up, but I can do exercises to earn an Amazon gift card? Are you kidding me? Fuck you.” Even though Gov. Justice has since ordered PEIA to make Go365 voluntary, teachers are still questioning its imposition.
Planning for the walkout started late last year when a group of teachers formed a secret Facebook page, Jonah Furman and Dan DiMaggio of Labor Notes report. By February, the group, West Virginia Public Employees United, had more than 20,000 members. High schools students also built support for the movement using the hashtag #SecureOurFuture on Twitter.
Of course, labor struggles in West Virginia have a long history and it’s no coincidence that the first walkouts by teachers took place in coal counties, as Cathy Kunkel points out in Jacobin. But it’s striking (ha) how the teachers were quickly organized not only by the platform effects of Facebook and Twitter, but by the unintended consequences of forcing them to use Go365.
Teachers in Oklahoma have announced plans for a work stoppage, garnering 40,000 fans to their Facebook page, reports Mike Elk for PayDayReport. He also reports teachers in neighboring states along the West Virginia border in Kentucky and Pennsylvania are considering striking in support of the West Virginians.
How the other 1 percent live: While teachers in West Virginia manage from paycheck to paycheck, “Egg-laying chickens are now a trendy, eco-conscious humblebrag on par with driving a Tesla” in Silicon Valley, with some “spending as much as $20,000 for high-tech coops,” Peter Holley reports for The Washington Post.
Trump watch: While Congress has directed the Pentagon to give $60 million a year to the State Department for the past two years to counter anti-democratic propaganda from Russian and Chinese sources, the agency has not spent a penny of the money, Gardiner Harris reports for The New York Times.
Facebook has yet to tell Congressional investigators how many Instagram users were taken in by Russian trolls, Issie Lapowsky reports for Wired. According to Jonathan Albright of Columbia’s Tow Center, the number is likely in the tens of millions.
Opposition watch: Everytown and Moms Demand Action have gained 1.2 million new supporters since the Parkland massacre, bringing the total to 5.2 million, Tom McCarthy reports for The Guardian.
Colleges and universities are getting more aggressive about encouraging their students to register and vote, Farah Stockman reports for the New York Times. Some are using detailed information from Tufts University’s National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, which offers data on how many college’s students voted. Interestingly, in 2016, social science majors voted at a higher rate than math and science majors, and women more than men, the study found.
Set aside an hour to listen to the latest episode of This American Life, where our dear friend Deanna Zandt (co-founder of Lux Digital and author of Share This!) shares her #MeToo story along with several other women who worked for and were abused by Don Hazen of Alternet.
Apply: DocumentCloud is looking to hire a lead developer. “We’re looking for someone who believes in code with a purpose,” says Aron Pilhofer.