A group that represents around sixty percent of the staff at one hospital is threatening to hit the picket lines if a contract dispute isn't settled by this weekend.
A contract between the Hazard ARH and the United Steel Workers expires at midnight Saturday. Negotiations about a new contract began in January and while hospital officials say progress is being made, union workers say multiple conditions under the proposed agreement are unacceptable and they will walk out Saturday night if a fair contract isn't offered.
"It's not a matter of making us happy. We just want to make a fair, honest living," said United Steel Workers President Dwayne Herald.
A three year contract between the Hazard Appalachian Regional Hospital and the local United Steel Workers Union expires April 1st. A new contract is in the works, but union employees met Tuesday night discussing several issues in the new contract they say are unacceptable.
"On many issues they are attempting to take many of our benefits away," Herald said.
Dwayne Herald has been an ARH employee for 12 years. He says health insurance, wages, and pensions along with several other benefits are changing drastically and hurting workers under the new contract.
"There are 10 or 12 issues that are vital to us that we feel are being attacked," he said.
Herald says health care is limited in the contract and unless a service isn't offered, they can't go to any hospital other than ARH.
"Sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe in," Herald said.
Hospital officials told us Tuesday that negotiations are underway and they're working toward a solution.
However, Herald says if a fair contract isn't offered by Saturday at midnight, nearly eight hundred employees, everyone from certified nurse aids to maintenance workers, will walk out.
"We are still bargaining in good faith to get a contract. We're not bargaining to get a strike, but if we can't get a contract, strike is our only alternative," Herald said.
A hospital spokesperson says they want to assure everyone that if the strike does occur, ARH will remain open. They say they've already made contingency plans and patient care will not suffer.