Although the media blackout remains intact concerning the nurses strike against ARH, a joint press release was issued Thursday afternoon indicating that the Kentucky and West Virginia nurses associations and hospital officials have reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement and return to work agreement for the health system's registered nurses, which may help the nurses get back to work.
According to ARH officials, as well as union officials, the actual details of the contract will remain confidential until the nurses have been given the opportunity to view and vote on the contract.
Harlan ARH officials said Thursday evening that the definition of the "tentative agreement" means that both the hospital and union officials are saying that they support the contract, but that the final outcome is up to the nurses.
The strike, which could soon be going into its fourth month, may end as soon as Saturday evening after all the picketing nurses have the opportunity to vote.
Although the outcome of the voting will be made available no later than Saturday evening, officials from both sides say it may still be several days before all the nurses can return to work, even if the voting goes in favor of ending the strike.
According to Harlan ARH officials, there are administrative processes which must be carried out first in order to get the nurses back on the job, such as contacting the nurses and getting them placed in the right units.
Officials from both sides said if the contract is accepted by the nurses, they will be returning to work as quickly as possible, although it probably won't be until after the Christmas holiday.
"Obviously, the last three months have been a difficult time for everyone, but I am happy to report that in this proposed tentative agreement the Kentucky and West Virginia nurses associations remain strong and intact. No nurse is left behind and our issues have been addressed. Ratification voting will be conducted on Friday and Saturday," said Pat Tanner KNA/WVNA chief negotiator in Thursday's press release.
Dan Fitzpatrick, ARH's executive director of human resources and labor relations, said in Thursday's press release that ARH and KNA/WVNA worked through some very difficult issues in order to reach the agreement, which demonstrates mutual commitment to both maintaining and enhancing patient care and improving the workplace.
"This tentative agreement reflects compromises by both parties which were made in the long-term best interests of all stakeholders, including the communities we serve, the nurses and all other employees who support the mission and organization," Fitzpatrick said.
Tanner said in an interview Friday that union officials are "hopeful" the nurses will accept the contract. However, she said she has "no way of knowing" what the outcome of the nurses' voting will be until late Saturday night.
"We believe we have the best we can get, and we know that we are not going to be able to please everyone," Tanner said. "People need to understand that this thing is going to require compromise on all sides involved."
Tanner said that union officials' hands are tied until the outcome of the nurses' vote due to the fact that the union only serves as an adviser to the nurses, and officials have no authority to tell them which way to vote on any contract.
"The membership (of the union is our boss, and we have no right to tell them what to vote for. The outcome of the vote will be entirely up to them," said Tanner.
Tanner said that negotiations on the tentative contract between union officials and ARH officials lasted until 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.
An attempt to speak with the nurses on the Harlan ARH picket line Friday afternoon was unsuccessful due to the media blackout, although the atmosphere as they looked over the contract seemed to be clouded with a somber silence.