ARH and the Kentucky and West Virginia Nurses Association Union ended their talks Wednesday. ARH submitted a new contract offering a wage increase of two percent which would increase a half percent each year of the contract up to three percent and hold steady until the contract ended.
The only way the strike appears to be delayed is if federal mediators contact both sides to re-negotiate before the Sunday midnight deadline. However, union officials says if a federal mediator is called they may delay the strike. If not, the nurses say they will not be at work.
“We are disappointed that a contract offer with more than $10 million in pay raises, extremely competitive healthcare and retirement benefits, and much more for our nurses was not accepted,” said Jerry W. Haynes, President and CEO for the ARH system.
Haynes said should nurses decide to stop work upon expiration of the current contract, ARH is prepared to continue providing quality care at all of its facilities.
“We will be well staffed with registered nurses, whether they are current nursing employees, new hires, or highly qualified nurses provided by nurse agencies. The ARH management team is working closely with physicians and nursing supervisors to provide a seamless delivery of patient care,” Haynes said. The well being of the patients remains our top priority,” Haynes emphasized.
Union Labor Director Dewey Parker did not respond to requests for comment.
“We are being forced to strike,” said Pat Tanner, lead negotiator for the Kentucky and West Virginia nurses associations, on Friday. “We continue to try to get the company to the table. They have refused — not us — to negotiate.”
The nurses voted down ARH’s proposed contract in a 408-228 voted Thursday night. The current contract expires midnight Sept. 30.
“The vote dictated there will be a strike on Monday,” Tanner said.
For ARH officials, contract talks concluded on Wednesday with their “last, best and final offer,” which promised an initial 2 percent pay raise — that would increase to 3 percent over four years — and flexible schedules that would allow nurses to choose either 10 or 12-hour shifts.
Since then, ARH has not indicated any interest in furthering the weeks-long negotiations.
ARH President and CEO Jerry W. Haynes said in a statement that officials were “disappointed” by the vote.
However, Haynes said ARH is prepared to continue providing the same level of care at all of its facilities should nurses decide to stop work upon expiration of the current contract.
“We will be well staffed with registered nurses, whether they are current nursing employees, new hires, or highly qualified nurses provided by nurse agencies,” Haynes said, adding, “The well-being of the patients remains our top priority.”
Nurses say the proposed package reduces holiday pay and increases insurance premiums. They want additional staffing to offset mandatory overtime; better retirement and medical benefits; and reinstatement of the modified work week (working 36 hours for 40 hours of pay). The modified work week provision in the existing contract was agreed upon after the nurses agreed to give up continuing education days, a uniform allowance and other benefits.
ARH, which employs 4,400 medical professionals, is a not-for-profit system serving 350,000 residents in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. The system operates nine hospitals.
Earlier this year, union workers at ARH went on strike for 25 days before agreeing to a three-year contract. The United Steelworkers union represents about 60 percent of ARH employees.
More than 80 percent of union members agreed to the new three-year contract, which guaranteed better wages and health care costs, but cuts to disability benefits.
Samira Jafari of the Associated Press contributed to this article.
C.J. Harte is a correspondent for the Daily News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.