Shortly after 2 p.m., after about a half hour of deliberations, Harlan Circuit Judge Russell Alred overruled ARH's request to temporarily restrain the United Steelworkers from picketing near the hospital, citing unsubstantiated evidence that union members have caused "irreparable harm" to ARH.
Joseph Worthington, an attorney for ARH, said the more than 400 union members on strike - all non-management - at Harlan ARH Hospital is an "unmanageable" amount of employees and that "there is some question as to whether the tents are set up on our property."
ARH's complaint, filed on Tuesday, alleges that union members have physically obstructed ARH's patients and working employees, and have "threatened, coerced, harassed and intimidated" ARH's employees, patients and others "having legitimate business" with ARH on ARH's private property. The company requested that groups not be permitted to congregate "within 1,000 feet of any property line, except for peaceful and lawful purposes."
Worthington said ARH's primary concern with Harlan's union, No. 14491, is hospital inaccessibility.
"We have had some real problems," Worthington said.
Local attorney Rodney Buttermore, also representing ARH, contended that there have been "instances of blockage" at the hospital, which employs approximately 650.
"What we are saying is it did occur," Buttermore said.
Alred said that, as of Tuesday, he could see no proof that a patient has been denied access to the hospital or has been injured crossing the picket line.
"Is it your argument that it's for potential injury?" Alred asked. He said "immediate action" on his behalf would require "immediate" proof on ARH's.
"You're not giving the burden of proof. ... I just don't see it," Alred said. "ARH may not like the fact that some of the workers are on strike. They may not like the fact that they're using inappropriate language ... but it's not illegal."
Herbert Segal, the union attorney, said "whatever occurred, occurred on the night of the beginning of the strike" when a large crowd - community and union members - gathered outside the hospital just before midnight April 1, when the union's contract with ARH expired.
"We are here to absolutely deny what the allegations are. There's not been any blocking," Segal said.
Segal said union members are simply exercising their First Amendment rights.
"Where is the irreparable harm? This is standard. They're out on strike, as they have every legal right to do," Segal said.
Alred warned union representatives that blocking roadways is illegal and publicly reminded all who attended Tuesday's hearing, including a handful of union employees, of state statutes on terroristic threatening.
"If the roads are open, that'll go a long way with us to resolve some issues," Worthington said.
Roger McGinnis, president of the local union, was present during Tuesday's hearing and later said that ARH was attempting to interfere with Harlan's picket line because the community support "here is so strong." He said union members have only attempted to block vehicles carrying replacement workers.
"We are still agreeable to negotiations, and we are optimistic this will come to an end sooner than later," McGinnis said.
Harlan County Sheriff Marvin Lipfird said on Tuesday the complaints he has received have been "unfounded." Walt Meachum, public affairs officer for the Kentucky State Police Post 10, could not be reached for comment. Another hearing regarding the issue is set for 1 p.m. April 12 in Harlan Circuit Court.
Also on Tuesday, ARH officials responded to a resolution drafted by the Harlan County Fiscal Court on Monday stating the county does not support ARH's attempts to bus in replacement workers during the strike and will withhold "past and future" funding if necessary. That includes a $250,000 coal severance allotment promised last September for a 5,000-square-foot rehabilitation facility.
In a letter to Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop, ARH President Jerry W. Haynes said the "ARH board of trustees will seriously consider" the action "as we evaluate the future operations of ARH in Harlan County."
"The insinuation that ARH is somehow responsible to maintain or restore order on public property in Harlan County is certainly not within the rights nor mandate of any private citizen or corporation. ... This resolution does not discourage unlawful activity and thus does not help in diffusing an already tense situation," the letter said. Grieshop could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Negotiations between ARH and the United Steelworkers began in late January and apparently broke down when an agreement could not be reached over employee benefits, including pensions, starting standard rates for new hires, sick time, disability and holiday pay.
Rick King, general counsel for ARH, said on Tuesday that the company has been trying "to look for ways to save money to operate in light of" economic setbacks, such as cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.
"We've been here 50 years. We want to be here another 50 years," King said. He said Harlan's picket line has been one of ARH's "greatest trouble spots" and that hiring replacement workers for employees on strike has already cost the company more than $1 million.
"This is not something we want to do. That needs to be made clear," King said. "We consider it a necessary evil."
As for the fiscal court showing its support for local strikers, King said the legislative body "is entitled to its opinion," though ARH believes its actions were inappropriate and could influence other decision-making bodies where strikes have commenced.
"When you take sides, I don't think it helps the bargaining process at all," he said.
ARH serves 350,000 residents of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. It operates nine hospitals, 12 clinics, eight home health agencies, 12 HomeCare Stores and 12 retail pharmacies. The United Steelworkers union represents about 60 percent of the company's workforce.
Contract negotiations between ARH officials and union leaders will resume in Lexington today.