West Virginia hospital workers move forward with strike

Service and maintenance workers at Cabell Huntington (W.Va.) Hospital will strike starting Nov. 3, according to the union that represents them.

On Oct. 21, about 1,000 Service Employees International Union District 1199 union workers at the hospital announced plans to strike unless a labor deal was reached. An agreement was not reached as of Nov. 2, initiating the strike.

The union accuses Cabell Huntington of committing multiple unfair labor practices and said workers have been in negotiations for months seeking quality care, safe staffing, adequate wages and health insurance coverage.

SEIU District 1199 also contends the hospital has the financial means to provide a fair and equitable contract, given its construction of a new $51 million office complex and its financial picture since the hospital completed the acquisition of Huntington-based St. Mary's Medical Center in 2018.

Hospital executives "have decided that they will be prioritizing profits over care, staffing, retention and dignity," the union said in a news release. "They are paying contracted outside workers who are not invested in our community, rather than take care of their dedicated long-term employees."

In a statement shared with Becker's, Cabell Huntington COO Tim Martin expressed disappointment about the strike moving forward and said the hospital made a comprehensive offer with a generous package of benefits. 

The offer included 3 percent average annual wage increases, an enhanced uniform allowance and increased shift differentials, he said. Mr. Martin said the hospital also agreed to continue automatic annual contributions to every eligible employee's retirement account.

"Like the rest of the Cabell Huntington Hospital employees, the service employees were asked to begin paying affordable, and below market, health insurance premiums," his statement reads. "Under the hospital's final proposal, the hospital will contribute more than 90 percent of healthcare costs for employees and their dependents."

Cabell Huntington prepared for the strike by temporarily postponing some elective surgeries. Hospital spokesperson Kathy Cosco said Nov. 1 that the hospital would re-evaluate the circumstances and work with patients to reschedule surgeries as quickly as possible.  

The hospital has also arranged for service workers to assist with care during the strike.

According to the union, the last strike with this group of union workers was 23 years ago.

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