Workers vote whether to strike, after talks collapse

Last updated: July 10. 2014 4:10PM - 916 Views
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Members of the hospital's contract negotiating team entered the meeting room Wednesday afternoon to present a new proposal to union employees. However, no deal was reached by the end of the day.
Members of the hospital's contract negotiating team entered the meeting room Wednesday afternoon to present a new proposal to union employees. However, no deal was reached by the end of the day.
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PAINTSVILLE — As of press time Thursday, it remained uncertain whether 207 employees of Highlands Regional Medical Center would soon be leaving their jobs for the picket line.

No agreement on a new contract was reached during last-minute negotiations between the hospital and Service Employees International Union 1199. Union employees were presented the hospital’s final offer on Thursday and were asked to vote on whether to accept the hospital’s final offer. If they voted to reject it, the union could instead send a notice of its intent to strike.

The results of that vote were not known at press time, but will be posted on www.floydcountytimes.com as soon as they are available.

According to SEIU director Joyce Gibson, the primary sticking points centered around health insurance.

Even if a strike notice were issued, the two sides could continue to negotiate in an effort to head off a strike. The employees’ current contract expires July 19, at which time they could strike, if no agreement is reached beforehand.

On Wednesday afteroon, there appeared to be some movement toward a compromise. Although SEIU director Joyce Gibson said the two sides remained “worlds apart” on the subject of health insurance for employee spouses, she added the hospital’s latest offer closed some distance.

Gibson said Highlands’ latest proposal eliminated a demand to drop spouses from coverage the hospital provides to employees, but would require employees to pay a surcharge to have their spouses covered. She did not indicate how much that surcharge was, except to say it was “unaffordable.”

But by Wednesday night, negotiations collapsed.

“The sticking points are still health care deductibles, out-of-pocket expense and spousal surcharges are unaffordable, no wage increase first year, and forcing married couples who work at the hospital to pay double premiums,” Gibson said Thursday.

Highlands released a statement Thursday afternoon, expressing a desire to continue working toward agreement.

“It is our understanding that today’s vote is to determine if the union will accept the current proposal the hospital has offered …” the statement said. “The union agreed not to deliver a strike notice at this time. In bargaining sessions on Wednesday evening, both Highlands Regional Medical Center and SEIU negotiating teams agreed to schedule additional bargaining sessions next week (Thursday, July 17) in an effort to continue working towards a resolution in the event the union membership did not agree to the current proposal. Hospital officials have stated they want to work towards a fair contract that meets the needs of the employees.”

But on Wednesday, Gibson criticized Highlands after she said the union learned that three top executives at the hospital received $10,000 salary increases in 2013. She said asking workers to sacrifice after providing such large raises to executives ran counter to the hospital’s claim that cuts were needed to keep the facility financially sound.

“We believe they have a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” Gibson said.

Hospital spokesperson Maxanna Cook said Wednesday she could not speak to specifics of the negotiations, but said the hospital remains hopeful that some agreement can be worked out.

“The patients are our number-one priority, and we want to work together with our employees as a team to give them the best coverage possible,” Cook said.

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