Nurses in Hazard and West Virginia to strike

ctruman@herald-leader.comApril 24, 2014 

Registered nurses at two hospitals operated by Appalachian Regional Healthcare, one in Kentucky and one in West Virginia, will have a one-day strike May 1 over a bitter contract negotiation.

The nurses said in a news release issued Thursday from the National Nurses United labor union that they will strike to protest hospital demands that include what nurses view as unsafe work loads, the extension of a wage freeze that began in 2011, and cuts in health coverage.

The one-day walkout, which ends May 2, will affect two of ARH's largest hospitals: Appalachian Regional in Hazard and Beckley Appalachian Regional in Beckley, W.Va.

ARH said on its website that in the event of a strike, the company "will take the necessary steps to continue providing quality services to its patients," including using existing management and staff, temporary employees and non-striking workers, and the recruitment of replacement employees.

ARH also said that the company has filed Federal Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the Southern United Nurses/National Nurses United for its alleged failure to bargain to reach a contract for ARH registered nurses.

In a statement posted Wednesday on its site, ARH said that contract negotiations "are hopelessly deadlocked and at impasse" since ARH presented its "last, best and final contract proposal" on April 15. ARH said it intends to implement portions of that proposal May 1 to ensure continued operation of its hospitals.

ARH said that the union has failed to move on its contract positions against the advice of a federal mediator.

In her labor union's release, Hazard registered nurse Judy Moore said, "Our patients deserve to be cared for by RNs that aren't tired and worn out. We are chronically short-staffed, and now management wants to mandate that RNs work more hours beyond our regular 12-hour shifts. It's not right, they are asking us for more and offering nothing but takeaways in return."

One key issue is ARH's demand to expand rules to mandate that most RNs be available to work additional 12-hour shifts during the work week, on top of their already scheduled work assignments, according to the nurses' release.

The nurses say they will also protest hospital insistence that they pay up to 22.5 percent more for health care coverage over the next three years, and a proposal to combine current sick leave, vacation and holidays into one package that reduces and restricts how much time they are able to take off.

In a statement posted Thursday, ARH said, "The cost of health insurance at ARH is very affordable compared to the market."

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman

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