Harlan ARH RNs not yet issued strike notice

By Nola Sizemore nsizemore@civitasmedia.com

April 25, 2014

With contracts ready to expire at the end of the month, a strike notice was issued by registered nurses at two hospitals operated by Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH). However, approximately 140 Harlan ARH Hospital registered nurses have not yet issued a notice to strike, according to Harlan ARH Administrator Brad Burkhart.

Registered nurses at two of ARH’s largest facilities, the Appalachian Regional Hospital in Hazard and the Beckley Appalachian Regional Hospital in Beckley, W Va. will hold a one-day strike May 1 to protest hospital demands that include what they view as unsafe work loads, the extension of a wage freeze that began in 2011, cuts in health coverage and other reductions in registered nurses standards according to a press release from the National Nurses United (NNU) union issued on Thursday.

Burkhart said Harlan ARH Hospital will be operating normally as always to be provide care on May 1. “It will be business as usual,” he said.

In the NNU press release, one key issue listed is ARH’s demand to expand rules to mandate that most registered nurses be available to work additional 12-hour shifts during the work week, on top of their already scheduled work assignments.

The press release says, “the nurses 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 their current sick leave, vacation and holidays into one package that reduces and restricts how much time they are able to take off to spend with their families.”

A letter written on Tuesday to ARH from NNU Labor Representative Dewey Parker says, “The SUN/NNU (Southern United Nurses/National Nurses United) does not believe we are at an impasse, and is more than willing to continue our bargaining sessions on the master agreement. Further more, the SUN/NNU will neither agree to bargain with each unit separately, nor agree to discuss the implementation of your last, best and final offer.”

Responding to that letter on Wednesday was ARH System Director of Employee Labor Relations Julius Pearson who said, “It remains the position of ARH that contract negotiations are hopelessly deadlocked and at impasse. Since ARH presented its last, final and best contract proposal on April 14, SUN/NNU has not made any meaningful response. Indeed, the last proposal made by SUN/NNU was regressive in nature. The 5 percent across-the-board wage increase proposal of SUN/NNU, which was predictably unacceptable to ARH, has remained unchanged since it was made on April 14.

“Moreover, as recently as yesterday at the meeting requested by SUN/NNU, and notwithstanding the strong urging of the federal mediator, SUN/NNU did not indicate any willingness to move off its contract positions…ARH intends to move forward with implementation upon expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement and it stands ready and willing to meet with SUN/NNU to discuss implementation. If SUN/NNU fails to meet with ARH by Monday, April 28, ARH will detail in a letter to SUN/NNU those portions of its last, final and best contract proposal that it will implement.”

Negotiations began in February, and since that time a number of proposals have been put forth by both ARH and the SUN/NNU.

On April 18, ARH filed a Federal Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the SUN/NNU unions, which represent ARH’s 734 registered nurses in southeastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.

Nola Sizemore may be reached at 606-909-4147 or on Twitter @Nola_hde