On Friday. March 29 a strike of service workers at Appalachian Regional Hospitals was averted when members of the United Steelworkers union voted to approve a three year contract. Nearly 10 days ago the union gave a notice to strike, but leaders with both groups came together and hammered out a collective bargaining agreement on Tuesday.
ARH System Director of Employee and Labor Relations Julius Pearson said the union and ARH worked diligently for several weeks to reach a contract that would be acceptable to both parties. The collective bargaining agreement becomes effective Monday, April 1 and will
run through March 31, 2016.
"We are extremely pleased that our employees represented by the USW have ratified this collective bargaining agreement, and we thank the USW negotiating team for the time and energy they invested in reaching this agreement," Pearson said. "It was our goal to present a contract offering fair and competitive wages and benefits that will continue to make our ARH employees some of the best compensated workers in our region, while also keeping ARH viable and sustainable in a time of uncertainty in the current healthcare environment and the overall economy."
Appalachian Regional Healthcare is a not-for-profit health system serving 350,000 residents across Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia. Two hospitals in southern West Virginia are a part of the network. Those include Summers County ARH and Beckley ARH.
The union represents around 2,200 employees in West Virginia and Kentucky. Those include clerical, housekeeping, maintenance, dietary, LPNs, certified nurse aids and technical employees. Doctors and registered nurses are not part of the USW. In our area, Beckley ARH and Summer County ARH would have been affected by the strike.
The detail of the agreement are being kept confidential until the union members have a chance to vote on the proposal.
"ARH and the USW worked through some very difficult issues to reach this tentative agreement, which demonstrates our mutual commitment to our patients and employees," said Julius Pearson, ARH system director of employee and labor relations. "This tentative agreement reflects compromises by both parties which were made in the long-term best interests of all stakeholders including the communities we serve, and all employees who support the mission and the organization."
If an agreement had not been reached a strike could have started on April 1. That could still happen if the union members vote down the agreement.
An announcement was made on Thursday, March 21 that contract negotiations between Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) and the United Steelworkers unions (USW) had broken off. A 10-day "intent to strike" notice was also issued by the union, however there were some indications that negotiations could resume on Monday, March 25.
59News has spoken with ARH, which is the parent company for local hospitals like Beckley-Appalachian Regional Hospital and Summers County Appalachian Regional Hospital and USW leaders. USW represents licensed practical nurses, certified nurse aids, and clerical, maintenance and housekeeping staff.
The sticking points, according to ARH, are Temporary Disability, Health Insurance and Wages. A summary of what the contract negotiations has achieved so far and what it left to be done as published by ARH is posted on our web site. There is also a copy of a letter issued by the ARH President and CEO.
The strike notice issued by the union on Thursday afternoon would lead to a strike of workers on Monday April 1. That is unless a compromise is reached before that time.
According to the summary document released by ARH, the USW wants an increase in pay and shift differential worth around $12.2 million. ARH has countered that with a proposed annual bonus of $500 paid in two installments. On the topic of Health Insurance, ARH claim the current USW proposal is not consistent with benefit payments from non-union employees and those represented by Southern United Nurses (SUN). When it comes to Temporary Disability, ARH officials said the USW proposal does not allow for sharing costs of a voluntary plan or a reduction of current benefits.
ARH claims that the changes are needed because of Federal and State Government reductions in reimbursement and increasing federal regulations.