Appalachian Regional Healthcare and the United Steelworkers are continuing to negotiate in hopes of preventing a strike by employees at the company’s facilities across eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.
After giving a 10-day strike notice on March 21, the USW reported to its membership late Monday that it continues to “negotiate in good faith” in an effort to avoid a strike at 12:01 a.m. on Easter Sunday.
Meanwhile, Julius Pearson, the ARH system director of employee and labor relations, said late Tuesday that ARH is doing the same.
“Contract negotiations between ARH and the United Steelworkers union continued today. ARH is giving the counter proposal submitted by the USW serious consideration and remains committed to continuing to bargain in good faith until a contract is reached,” said Pearson.
A membership bargaining update notice to union members stated that “Although the USW has issued the required 10-days strike notice to coincide with the current contract’s expiration on March 31, the strategic decision on whether or not to engage in a labor dispute will be made by our members.”
Membership meetings were held at nine ARH locations over the weekend to discuss what the USW claims to be “major concessionary changes to many of the economic areas of our contract.”
The USW update claims the “company (ARH) seems intent on forcing the membership to vote on its concession-laden proposal. By contrast, our committee has illustrated a commitment in good-faith to reach a mutually amicable agreement.”
“A comprehensive counter proposal” was to be presented by the USW on Monday following a weekend “recess in order to update our members on negotiations.” Details on that proposal, and whether it was presented, were not available at press time.
The USW update claims that “In recognition of the federal and state changes regarding future revenues of ARH, the union has tentatively agreed to many significant cost saving changes to the current agreement. To this end, our committee addressed many issues ARH identified to be important. Notably, by converting new hires from a defined benefit pension to a 403(b) savings plan, we have agreed to offset massive future pension liabilities and provided significant cost savings.”
Also, the USW claims to have “agreed to marked cost savings in other significant areas.. Up to this point, ARH shows little desire to reach an agreement.”
The USW says it received a letter from ARH claiming “There were some discussions at membership meetings about the possible use of violence in connection with a possible strike. While we are unaware of such discussions, the USW and the locals representing the ARH employees wish to make it clear in no uncertain terms that we do not condone any violence by our members under any circumstances, including in furtherance of our strike goals.”
“We believe that our goals can best be achieved through peaceful means, and that those who choose to use violence instead do so at their own peril,” the USW said.
On Thursday, ARH President and CEO Jerry Haynes notified the health care system’s approximately 5,000 employees the USW issued the “intent to strike notice” to the not-for-profit corporation. Haynes acknowledged in the March 21 letter the USW broke off negotiations after issuing the strike notice and did not plan to return to the bargaining table for additional negotiations until Monday.
The USW represents licensed practical nurses, certified nurse aids, clerical, maintenance and housekeeping staff. Doctors and registered nurses are not part of the USW.
ARH faced a strike by the USW in the spring of 2007, followed by a strike of the nurses union in the fall of the same year.
According to earlier reports, the breakdown in negotiations stems from issues concerning temporary disability, health insurance and wages.
Haynes, in his communications with employees, said, “Health insurance premiums around the country continue to increase from year to year. ARH has made significant efforts to minimize these increases for our employees. However, inflation in health care, requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and other factors have caused our self-insured health care plan costs to increase. As a result, ARH is proposing changes in our self-insured health care plan. The plan ARH is proposing is the same plan as non-union employees and basically the same plan as employees represented by the SUN (Southern United Nurses Association). ARH’s recent Benefits at a Glance document for non-union employees can be viewed at www.arh.org.
ARH provides health care to 350,000 residents across the region at 10 hospitals, multi-specialty physician practices, home health agencies, HomeCare Stores and retail pharmacies through the region. It is the largest provider of care and single largest employer in southeastern Kentucky and the third largest private employer in southern West Virginia.
Story from Harlan Daily Enterprise | Civitas Media, LLC