HARLAN — The head of Appalachian Regional Healthcare says a union has informed officials that its members intend to strike if an agreement hasn't been reached on their contract by the time it expires March 31.
The Harlan Daily Enterprise cited a letter written by ARH President and CEO Jerry Haynes that says the United Steelworkers union issued a 10-day "intent to strike notice" on March 21.
The union represents licensed practical nurses, certified nurse aids, and clerical, maintenance and housekeeping staff at ARH facilities across Eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.
Haynes said ARH will proceed with plans to ensure patients are cared for if the strike occurs.
The newspaper reported that attempts to contact Roger McGinnis, president of the local USW, on Thursday evening were unsuccessful.
Contract negotiations, which began earlier this year, broke off this week but are expected to resume on Monday.
"The negotiations began in late January, and even though progress has been very slow, we believe that progress has been made during the overall process," Haynes said. "We are very concerned the strike notice will create uncertainty and anxiety within our communities at a time when our communities are already stressed due to the difficult economic times."
According to its website, the not-for-profit ARH employs almost 5,000 workers at 10 facilities in the region that includes hospitals, physician practices and home health agencies. It serves about 350,000 people in the region.
Haynes said ARH is facing financial uncertainties because of reimbursement cuts from federal and state governments and increases in regulations.
Despite that, he said ARH has proposed "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 changes in benefits "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."
If workers do strike, he says the hospital will be prepared for that contingency and "fully intends to keep all of our facilities operational ..."