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United Steelworkers vote to accept labor deal with Appalachian Regional Healthcare; strike avoided

By: Tanner Hesterberg Email
By: Tanner Hesterberg Email
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Update, 3/30/13, 1:00 a.m.

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - A strike has been avoided for more than 2,000 workers at Appalachian Regional Healthcare.

The employees voted Friday to accept a new labor agreement between ARH and the United Steelworkers Union.

Around 2,200 USW members who work at ARH had threatened to strike as soon as Monday if a labor deal was not reached.

But negotiators from both sides earlier this week agreed to a tentative deal that was made official Friday with a majority of "yes" votes.

"We are extremely pleased that our employees represented by the USW have ratified this collective bargaining agreement," ARH director of employment and labor relations Julius Pearson said. "And we thank the USW negotiating team for the time and energy they invested in reaching this agreement."

Employees at nine ARH facilities in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia went to the ballot box. Union officials said the "yes" votes carried all nine locations.

"I think that it is a big relief," USW district eight representative Roger McGinnis said. "Especially with today's economy and the shape things are in, even in our region."

Voting was not mandatory for USW members. McGinnis said turnout was around 80 percent.

"I think this wasn't a good time for a strike with the economy and the shape that it's in," he said. "I think the mood was that the people did not want to strike."

Details of the agreement have not been released. But both sides have confirmed it includes a compromise on health insurance hikes - an area that was one of the biggest hangups in negotiations.

"It was our goal to present a contract that offered fair and competitive wages and benefits that will continue to make our ARH employees some of the best compensated workers in our region," Pearson said.

The new labor deal is good for three years.

Union officials will be meeting in the coming days to decide whether to reveal the final vote tally.

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Update, 3/29/13, 8:30 p.m.

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - Members of the United Steelworkers Union have voted to accept a new collective bargaining agreement with Appalachian Regional Healthcare, ending the threat of a strike.

USW representative Roger McGinnis told WYMT the "yes" votes carried all nine ARH facilites in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.

ARH has 10 facilities in the area, but Mary Breckinridge in Leslie County did not vote because of a separate contract.

McGinnis did not have a final vote tally.

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Update: 6:00pm - 3/29/13

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - Voting is wrapping up for more than 2,000 members of the United Steelworkers Union.

The employees are deciding whether to accept a new labor deal with Appalachian Regional Healthcare.

USW employees had threatened to strike as early as Monday if a new work contract was not reached.

Earlier this week, officials from both sides hammered out a tentative agreement.

The polls opened at 6:00 Friday morning at some locations.

If a simple majority of USW members do not okay the collective bargaining agreement, they could be hitting the picket lines.

Around 2,200 USW employees are casting their ballots at nine locations throughout eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.

They include LPNs, clerical workers and X-ray and lab technicians.

“People have been coming in throughout the day and casting their votes. Some of the people that were not able to attend the meetings Thursday, we are working with them one-on-one explaining the proposed changes,” Roger McGinnis, USW District 8 Representative.

Some union members voted early due to the holiday weekend and others are voting absentee.

The voting process is similar to Election Day.

“The members will come in and they will actually sign a note pad and then they will be given a paper ballot and then they will privately vote and put their ballot in a lock box,” McGinnis said.

Neither side is releasing details of the agreement unless the voters approve it. But we have confirmed the proposed contract does include compromises in areas like healthcare hikes that had been holding up negotiations.

Union officials expect all the votes to be counted by 9:00pm
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Update, 3/27/13:

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - A tentative labor agreement between Appalachian Regional Healthcare and the United Steelworkers will be put to a vote later this week.

More than 2,000 ARH employees had threatened to strike as early as Monday if the two sides failed to agree on a new contract.

But after another round of negotiations Tuesday, ARH and the USW reached a tentative deal that will now be voted on by union members.

USW officials said they will meet with members Thursday to explain the details of the agreement.

Some union workers will cast their votes Thursday, but most of them will vote Friday on whether to accept the new contract.

"I do have a sense that our members are relieved that we are at this point and they are going to have an opportunity to vote," USW district eight representative Roger McGinnis said. "So I do feel a sense of relief with our members."

Around 2,200 ARH employees - including LPNs, clerical workers and X-ray and lab technicians - are members of the USW.

McGinnis said he expects all the votes to be counted by nine p.m. Friday, so it shuld be known before the weekend if the agreement will stand.

Neither side is releasing details of the deal until that happens.

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Update, 3/26/13:

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - The possibility of a strike appears to be over for more than 2,000 employees of Appalachian Regional Healthcare.

ARH officials said Tuesday they reached a tentative labor agreement with the United Steelworkers Union that is likely to prevent a work stoppage.

The current labor contract between ARH and the USW expires on Sunday and workers had threatened to strike as early as Monday if a new deal was not reached.

Julius Pearson, the director of employement and labor relations at ARH, said, "ARH and the USW worked through some very difficult issues to reach this tentative agreement. This demonstrates our mutual commitment to our patients and our employees."

Around 2,200 ARH workers are members of the union and they include LPNs, clerical workers and X-ray and lab technicians.

"We're very hopeful and we're excited that the two sides, ARH and USW worked so hard to reach this agreement," Pearson said.

The deal comes after Monday's counteroffer from the USW that featured compromises in areas that had been dividing the two sides, including health insurance hikes.

Pearson said, "This tentative agreement reflects compromises by both parties, which were made in the long-term best interest of all stake-holders, including our communities we serve and all the employees who support the mission and the organization."

He went on to say these type of contracts typically last three years.

Details of the agreement are not being released because the deal is not yet official. Pearson said that will happen once USW employees vote to approve it. We left messages for union officials but have not heard back, so we do not know how soon a possible vote will take place.

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Update, 3/25/13:

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - Talks resumed Monday over a possible new labor contract between Appalachian Regional Healthcare and more than 2,000 of its workers.

The employees are members of the United Steelworkers union and include LPNs, clerical workers and X-ray and lab technicians.

The two sides so far have been unable to agree on a new contract and a strike may be on the horizon.

The current labor contract between ARH and its USW employees ends Sunday. The union has already filed a strike notice and a walk-out could happen as soon as 12:01 a.m. on Monday, April 1.

"We're doing everything we can to avoid a strike," USW District 8 representative Roger McGinnis said. "We'll do everything possible to avoid that. We're not looking forward to that. We have no interest in striking if we can avoid it."

The USW submitted a counterproposal when the two sides met Monday. McGinnis said it features compromises on issues that have been at the forefront of disagreements, including medical insurance hikes.

"We're continuing to bargain over those issues," he said. "Especially the medical, it's a big concern. It's a lot of added costs to our members and we're hopeful this time we can minimize that as much as possible."

ARH officials were unavailable for an interview, but the company's director of employee and labor relations, Julius Pearson, released this statement: "ARH and the United Steelworkers union resumed negotiations (Monday) afternoon. ARH is committed to bargaining in good faith and will continue to do so until a contract is reached."

USW officials said they are hoping to hear back from ARH sometime Tuesday in regard to the counterproposal.

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Update, 3/21/13:

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - More than 2,000 employees at Appalachian Regional Healthcare could soon be going on strike.

The employees are members of the United Steelworkers union and are at odds with ARH officials over a new collective bargaining agreement.

ARH's labor contract with around 2,200 USW employees expires on March 31. The two sides have yet to reach a new deal.

"That bargaining unit includes maintenance workers, service workers, LPNs, clerical and some technical employees," ARH system director of employment and labor relations Julius Pearson said. "These are very vital employees but they are not necessarily the RNs."

One of the biggest snags in negotiations so far is the proposed health insurance plan. ARH officials are asking for what they're calling "minimal" rate hikes, but USW employees are in opposition.

"Some people's medical (plan) will actually double," USW district eight representative Roger McGinnis said. "Co-pays that were never there before are in this package. Spousal surcharges that will range as high as $1500 to $2000 more on the year."

ARH officials believe the final offer they are making is fair.

"The plan that was offered to the group, that bargaining unit, is better than what management currently has," Pearson said. "It's better than what non-union employees have and other employees who are not represented by the USW."

But health insurance is not the only topic of dispute.

"The company also wants to reopen negotiations if there is an increase in the federal minimum wage," McGinnis said. "So basically they want to distribute any type of increase on minimum wage to the other employees."

USW members issued an intent to strike Wednesday and may walk out as early as April 1.

McGinnis said the USW employees will consider the final offer and may even take a vote this weekend.

The two sides are scheduled to meet again on Monday.

ARH officials said they have contingency plans just in case the workers end up striking.

ARH serves around 350,000 people in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.

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Original story from 3/21/13:

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - More than 2,000 union workers in the Appalachian Regional Healthcare chain could soon be on strike.

ARH received a strike notice Wednesday.

The notice means around 2,200 USW employees at ARH facilities across the region could walk out as soon as April 1st if the two sides are unable to come to terms.

“That bargaining unit includes maintenance workers, service workers, LPN’s, clerical and some technical employees. So these are very vital employees but they are not necessarily the RN’s,” Julius Pearson said.

One of the biggest hang-ups in negotiations seems to be the health insurance plan being offered.

ARH officials are calling for what they call minimal rate increases, but USW employees are against that.


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