Every three years, members of the United Steelworkers Union (USW) and representatives from Appalachian Regional Healthcare come together. Today, they met for the first time to discuss a new contract.
The current contract will be up on March 31. Contracts between ARH and USW have been in effect since the 1960s. Three years ago, when they last negotiated. union workers wound up going on a 28-day strike. Reps from both parties say they are confident about this years plans.
At a meeting in Lexington, USW and ARH officials discussed their plans for a contract renewal.
"This is the first day. We just sat down and exchanged proposals, and we'll look and what they have to say and they'll look and what we have to say, and we'll go from there," says Rowlan Stidham, the local president of USW.
Hospital officials say the meeting started well.
"Both sides were very positive about our ability to move forward and reach a negotiated agreement," says Dan Fitzpatrick,Executive Director of ARH Human Resources and Labor Relations.
Fitzpatrick says this year's negotiations between ARH and the union might be more challenging.
"Health care economics being what they are--with health care reform ahead of us--there won't be as much money to work with as we've had in other years. We'll have to be more creative in finding solutions to address those issues," he says.
In 2007, union employees went on strike, something officials say they hope to avoid.
"There's always the potential for a work stoppage in the event that an agreement can't be reached, but at this point we have had very cordial sessions this morning," Fitzpatrick says.
The union representative, speaking for around 2,400 employees, says he sees the same possibilities.
"We'll do everything we can to avoid a strike--we don't want a strike, but in the same breath, we will strike if it comes down to that," says Stidham.
He says he does feel confident they will reach an agreement.
The meetings between ARH representatives and those with the USW are expected to last about six to eight weeks. Both parties made it very clear that they do not want a strike.