PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A federal mediator has requested a meeting with representatives of some 600 Appalachian nurses on strike and officials with the region's largest health care providers.
More than 630 registered nurses at seven Kentucky and two West Virginia Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospitals walked off the job at 12:01 a.m. Monday when their contract expired.
The federal mediator, Herb Fetty, has requested to meet with both sides Monday in Lexington.
Fetty, who monitored negotiations between the two sides before the strike, initiated talks between the two sides Thursday, said Pat Tanner, a negotiator for the nurses association.
ARH officials cautioned that the discussions were simply talks, not necessarily "a resumption of negotiations." Officials have said they have no interest in resuming negotiations with the nurses.
"This does not indicate a resumption of negotiations but is customarily done out of respect for the mediator," said ARH spokeswoman Candace Elkins.
Tanner, however, hopes that the meeting with Fetty will lead to discussions between the nurses and ARH.
Weeks of negotiations between the union and hospital administrators came to an impasse over several issues including staffing ratios, mandatory overtime and pay raises.
Last week, ARH issued its "final offer" to the nurses, which included an initial 2 percent pay raise and flexible schedules, allowing nurses to work 10 and 12-hour shifts.
However, Tanner said the proposed contract reduces holiday pay and increases insurance premiums, canceling out any pay raise. She said the union was open to further talks.
The nurses want better retirement and medical benefits; reinstatement of the modified work week (working 36 hours for 40 hours of pay); and additional staffing to offset mandatory overtime.
"You can't give good patient care if you don't have enough staff," Tanner said.
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)