HAZARD — Workers at Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) can breathe a sigh of relief after those represented by the United Steelworkers (USW) union voted to accept a new three-year collective bargaining agreement instead of striking.
USW and ARH came to a tentative agreement early last week after both parties had set down to work through negotiations. Julius Pearson, ARH system director of employee and labor relations, said USW employees ratified the agreement on Friday.
“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.
ARH employs nearly 5,000 people, just over 2,000 of which are represented by USW and work in a variety of occupations including clerical, housekeeping, maintenance, dietary, licensed practical nurses, certified nurse aids, and some technical employees.
Negotiations began in late January, but USW filed an “intent to strike” notice in late March and broke off negotiations with ARH. The major unresolved issues between the union and hospital dealt with disagreements in proposals for temporary disability, health insurance, and wages.
The new collective bargaining agreement runs from April 1through March 31, 2016.
“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,” Pearson said.
ARH and USW have had a history of negotiation difficulties; in 2007, contract negotiations fell through and USW workers went on strike for nearly a month.
ARH is a non-profit health system which serves 350,000 residents in Eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia and is the largest employer in Southeastern Kentucky and the third largest private employer in southern West Virginia.