HAZARD — Over 2,000 employees with Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) could be facing a strike in the coming weeks as negotiations with their union and the organization have come to a halt.
In a letter to ARH employees on Wednesday, ARH President and CEO Jerry Haynes explained the situation.
“It is with regret that I must inform you that late yesterday afternoon the United Steelworkers (USW) union issued an ‘intent to strike’ notice. In addition, after issuing the intent to strike notice, the USW broke off negotiations indicating that they would not resume negotiations until Monday, March 25,” the letter read.
Negotiations started in late January, and the major unresolved issues between the union and hospital deal with disagreements in proposals for temporary disability, health insurance, and wages.
According to the ARH website, the USW proposal does not call for a cost-sharing voluntary plan for temporary disability by employees represented by USW, does not call for medical benefit payments consistent with non-union employees and employees represented by the Southern United Nurses, and calls for approximately $12.2 million in increases in wages and shift differential over the next three years, which represents approximately a 17.5 percent increase in total wages for employees represented by USW. ARH has proposed an annual bonus of $500 paid in two installments.
Representatives for USW could not be reached as of Friday morning.
In his letter, Haynes said ARH has presented its final contract proposal to the USW.
“We are proposing fair, competitive, and sustainable wages and benefits that will continue to make our ARH employees some of the best compensated workers in our region,” he said. “While there have been some changes to the offered benefits, these changes are necessary in order to keep ARH viable and sustainable in a time when companies in our service area have been forced to lay off workers or close their doors.”
ARH and USW have a history of negotiation difficulties. In 2007, workers represented by USW actually went on strike after contract negotiations fell through, with picketing of ARH hospitals in Kentucky and West Virginia lasting nearly a month.
Haynes ended his letter this week with words of reassurance not only to ARH employees, but to the public who depend on the services of the hospitals.
“I want to assure you and our communities that ARH fully intends to keep all of our facilities operational and, to the extent possible, maintain the medical services we now provide. I am hopeful an agreement can be reached so we can avoid any unnecessary disruption to our operations.”