"Today wasn't very positive at all," said Roger McGinnis, president of Local 14491 in Harlan. McGinnis said negotiations ceased at approximately 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and will resume in Lexington today.
"If nothing else changes, the strike will continue," McGinnis said, adding that "little movement" was made by ARH in attempting to reach a resolution that would end a systemwide strike approaching its fifth day.
"It's like they want to take one step forward in one area and two or three steps back in another," McGinnis said.
Meanwhile, union members continued waving signs reading "unfair labor practices" and urging honks of support along the U.S. 421 bypass outside Harlan ARH Hospital on Wednesday.
Though weathering a severe thunderstorm late Tuesday that weather experts believe could have been a tornado, union members continued to strike alongside downed trees and apparent destruction to the hospital's front entrance on Wednesday.
"I'm just praying that the Steelworkers and ARH come to a fair agreement ... to take care of the patients, the communities and the families," said Misty Mullins, a business office clerk at ARH's Daniel Boone Clinic next to the hospital.
"We'd like to thank the community for their prayers and support," added Serena Irvin, a medical assistant at the clinic.
In Cumberland, where ARH's Tri-City Medical Clinic is closed, union members who have set up a small picket line just off U.S. 119 outside the facility said they remained hopeful that Wednesday would bring positive signs of progress. Nurses and doctors at the clinic were reportedly transferred to the Harlan hospital on Monday, and a pharmacist there joined them on Wednesday, union members said.
"We want it back open. ... We don't want the people to be abandoned," said Sue Hall, an X-ray technologist at the clinic, which serves residents of Cumberland, Benham and Lynch. She said her group has seen "good community support" from patients and passersby.
"Very few went on over there to get their medicine," she said.
Shirley Hill, another employee at the Daniel Boone Clinic, said not knowing what the end result of the strike would be is "scary ... and very stressful."
"But we support the union because the United Steelworkers built this hospital," Hill said. "I'm hopeful, and I have faith that things will get worked out."
Wednesday's negotiations followed an intense three-day strike in Harlan. Of ARH's approximate 650 employees here, 440 walked off the job at 12:01 a.m. April 1 when the union's contract with ARH expired and negotiations proved unsuccessful. Two arrests were made that first day, and a hospital supervisor was charged with first-degree wanton endangerment for allegedly striking a protester with her automobile while crossing the picket line on the second day. And on Tuesday, ARH's request for injunctive relief was denied in Harlan Circuit Court as ARH officials lashed out at the county government's controversial show of support for union members.
In a resolution drafted Monday, the Harlan County Fiscal Court stated that the county would 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. ARH officials called the move "inappropriate" and said the decision could influence other decision-making bodies where strikes have commenced.
Apparently, it has. The Perry County Fiscal Court on Tuesday also drafted a resolution of support for its union workers on strike in Hazard, and McGinnis said other counties appear to be considering action as well.
"Each county government is seeing what's going on here. It's not only Harlan County," McGinnis said.
ARH serves about 350,000 residents in Kentucky and West Virginia through several clinics, home health agencies, stores and pharmacies. The strike is also affecting hospitals in Hazard, Middlesboro, Whitesburg, South Williamson, McDowell and Morgan County, as well as Beckley and Hinton, W.Va.
Candace Elkins, spokeswoman for ARH, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. ARH's Web site, however, reported that negotiations are continuing and the company is "hopeful that a resolution can be reached to resolve the issues and to end the strike."
"We want to assure our communities that residents will continue to receive quality patient care. Our hospitals are open for services and physicians, nurses and management are working extremely hard to continue to provide healthcare to our communities," the company's Web site said.
The company also said its leadership is working to "present a fair contract that provides market competitive wages and benefits," including wage increases, unaltered pension benefits, an enhanced health benefit that has financial incentives for employees and optional 12-hour shifts for employees requesting flexible schedules.
"Contrary to rumor, ARH is not trying to break the union. We will work with the USW to reach a fair agreement for everyone," the company said.
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.
The United Steelworkers represents about 60 percent of ARH's 4,600 employees in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.